Faculty Advisor

Beyer, Tim; Andresen, David

Area of Study

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Publication Date

Summer 2018


Even though metaphors are frequently used in everyday language, how metaphors are created and comprehended in the brain is not well understood. Metaphors can differ in whether they are conventional (such as “love is war”) or novel (such as “love is a tidal wave”), and an unresolved question is if, and how, novel metaphors might become conventional as they are used. In order to test this question, we will ask participants to respond to literal phrases, conventional metaphors, novel metaphors created by the experimenters, and novel metaphors created by the participants themselves while measuring their brain activity. Previous studies have shown that a specific brain activity pattern, called the N400, reflects language processing such as whether a phrase is literal or metaphorical, and whether a metaphor is conventional or novel. We will use the N400 to assess how different types of metaphors are processed in the brain, such as whether novel metaphors produced by the participants themselves are processed more like novel metaphors created by the researchers, or more like conventional metaphors. In addition, we will correlate N400 patterns with individual characteristics such as creativity, crystallized intelligence (accumulated world knowledge), and fluid intelligence (the speed of processing), to examine what cognitive abilities may be involved in the comprehension of different types of metaphors. In sum, this project allows us to assess how metaphors of different types are produced and comprehended, and link this to individual attributes and brain activity.


University of Puget Sound