Creating metaphors: The neural basis of figurative language production

Mathias Benedek, Roger Beaty, Emanuel Jauk, Karl Koschutnig, Andreas Fink, Paul J. Silvia, Beate Dunst, Aljoscha C. Neubauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


Neuroscience research has thoroughly studied how nonliteral language is processed during metaphor comprehension. However, it is not clear how the brain actually creates nonliteral language. Therefore, the present study for the first time investigates the neural correlates of metaphor production. Participants completed sentences by generating novel metaphors or literal synonyms during functional imaging. Responses were spoken aloud in the scanner, recorded, and subsequently rated for their creative quality. We found that metaphor production was associated with focal activity in predominantly left-hemispheric brain regions, specifically the left angular gyrus, the left middle and superior frontal gyri-corresponding to the left dorsomedial prefrontal (DMPFC) cortex-and the posterior cingulate cortex. Moreover, brain activation in the left anterior DMPFC and the right middle temporal gyrus was found to linearly increase with the creative quality of metaphor responses. These findings are related to neuroscientific evidence on metaphor comprehension, creative idea generation and episodic future thought, suggesting that creating metaphors involves the flexible adaptation of semantic memory to imagine and construct novel figures of speech. Furthermore, the left DMPFC may exert executive control to maintain strategic search and selection, thus facilitating creativity of thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-106
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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