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Poster D47, Friday, August 17, 4:45 – 6:30 pm, Room 2000AB

Prior experience modulates electrophysiological responses to novel metaphorical language.

Rafal Jonczyk1,2, Gül E. Kremer3, Zahed Siddique4, Janet G. Van Hell1;1Pennsylvania State University, USA, 2Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland, 3Iowa State University, USA, 4University of Oklahoma, USA

Novel metaphorical language use signifies the incredible human ability to produce meaningful linguistic expressions that have never been heard before, coloring communication. This, however, may come at a price of increased comprehension costs in readers or listeners who need to integrate information from semantically distant concepts. Indeed, electrophysiological research has demonstrated that novel metaphor comprehension may be more effortful than literal language but less effortful than nonsense language (Goldstein et al., 2012; Rataj et al., 2017; Rutter et al., 2012). Little is known, however, if this processing effort may be modulated by prior experience and knowledge about the world. To this end, we collected electrophysiological responses to literal, nonsense, and novel metaphorical sentences that were referring either to engineering knowledge (e.g., The wind tickled the turbine) or to general knowledge (e.g., The earthquake inhaled the city), testing engineering (n=20) and non-engineering (n=24) students. Sentences differed in verb only and were classified in prior norming studies (n = 65) as highly unusual and highly appropriate (novel metaphors), low unusual and highly appropriate (literal sentences), and highly unusual and low appropriate (nonsense sentences). In the EEG/ERP experiment, participants read sentences and then judged the sentences’ unusualness and appropriateness. Ongoing EEG was time-locked to the verb and to the final word to assess the early and late stages of sentence comprehension. The results reveal an increased N400 to novel metaphors and nonsense sentences relative to literal sentences at the early sentence processing stage (verb position) for both participant groups. At the later, sentence-final stage, the N400 amplitude is most pronounced for nonsense sentences, followed by novel metaphors and then literal sentences. This N400 modulation follows the pattern reported in the literature (e.g., Rataj et al., 2017; Rutter et al., 2012), and here it is also not sensitive to prior knowledge modulation as indexed by comparable N400 in both participant groups. Notably, however, prior knowledge seems to effectively modulate novel metaphor processing at the meaning re-analysis stage, indexed by the Late Positive Complex (LPC) component of ERPs. Specifically, novel metaphors embedded in engineering context lead to decreased LPC amplitudes compared to non-engineering novel metaphors in engineering students only, suggesting less effortful re-evaluation of novel engineering metaphors in engineering students. This modulation is reversed for non-engineering students, with engineering metaphors evoking increased LPC amplitudes compared to literal sentences, suggesting more effortful re-analysis of novel engineering metaphors in non-engineering students. These results provide novel evidence demonstrating that prior experience modulates electrophysiological responses to novel metaphorical language. References: Goldstein, A., Arzouan, Y., and Faust, M. (2012). Killing a novel metaphor and reviving a dead one: ERP correlates of metaphor conventionalization. Brain Lang. 123, 137–142. Rataj, K., Przekoracka-Krawczyk, A., and Lubbe, R.H.J. van der (2017). On understanding creative language: the late positive complex and novel metaphor comprehension. Brain Res. Rutter, B., Kröger, S., Hill, H., Windmann, S., Hermann, C., and Abraham, A. (2012). Can clouds dance? Part 2: an ERP investigation of passive conceptual expansion. Brain Cogn. 80, 301–310.

Topic Area: Meaning: Discourse and Pragmatics