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Poster B44, Wednesday, November 8, 3:00 – 4:15 pm, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Distinguishing Metaphors that Differ in their Encoded Force Patterns

Vesna Gamez-Djokic1, Elisabeth Wehling2, Lisa Aziz-Zadeh1;1University of Southern California, 2University of California, Berkeley

Previous studies indicate that action verbs activate sensorimotor brain regions that process specific motor features relevant to the meaning of action verbs. For example, areas of the premotor cortex have been shown to be sensitive to the degree of implied force in action-related phrases (e.g., “pushing the piano” vs. “pushing the chair”). However, it is currently unknown whether action-related metaphors that imply an action towards or away from an agent should, similarly, recruit specific sensorimotor programs (e.g., force direction) to encode the meaning of more abstract events. To explore these questions, we used an MVPA whole-brain searchlight analysis to look for patterns of activity across voxels in the brain that could successfully classify two categories of familiar metaphors that differ in their encoded force dynamics: 1) Metaphors drawing on action-verbs that imply an away-from-self force toward an antagonist and relate to the act of communicating (e.g., “She’s pushing the agenda”); 2) and metaphors drawing on action-verbs that imply a force that would move the antagonist towards the self and relate to cognizing (e.g., “She’s grasping the idea”). The results revealed that activity across voxels within fronto-parietal motor regions (e.g., precentral gyrus/premotor cortex, SPL, and IPL), could successfully distinguish between these two types of metaphors. In addition, some of these voxels overlapped with voxels in brain regions that were significantly activated in a motor localizer task involving object-directed hand actions. Taken together, these findings support a degree of motor specificity even for more abstract event descriptions during metaphor comprehension.

Topic Area: Meaning: Lexical Semantics

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