The influence of sentence novelty and figurativeness on brain activity

Michele T. Diaz, Kyle T. Barrett, Larson J. Hogstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The predominance of the left hemisphere in language comprehension and production is well established. More recently, the right hemisphere's contribution to language has been examined. Clinical, behavioral, and neuroimaging research support the right hemisphere's involvement in metaphor processing. But, there is disagreement about whether metaphors, in and of themselves, engage the right hemisphere or if other factors that vary between metaphors and literal language elicit right hemisphere engagement. It is important to disambiguate these issues to improve our basic knowledge of figurative language processing, to more precisely define how the right hemisphere supports language, and to facilitate our ability to understand and treat language impairments. Here we investigated the role of the right hemisphere in language comprehension with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) by manipulating familiarity in both literal and metaphoric sentences. In an event-related design, participants viewed English sentences that appeared every 4.5-9. s, and to which they made a pleasantness judgment. All sentences elicited activation in traditional language brain regions including left inferior frontal gyrus, left anterior inferior temporal and left posterior middle temporal gyri. Overall, metaphors and novel stimuli elicited activation in bilateral inferior frontal gyri and left temporal regions. Additionally, metaphors elicited greater activation than literal sentences in right temporal pole. Although our results are partially consistent with the graded salience hypothesis and the coarse coding hypothesis, the right hemisphere's sensitivity to familiar metaphors suggests that right hemisphere recruitment is most influenced by semantic integration demands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-330
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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