Evidence for bilateral involvement in idiom comprehension: An fMRI study

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Abstract

The goal of the current study was to identify the neural substrate of idiom comprehension using fMRI. Idioms are familiar, fixed expressions whose meaning is not dependent on the literal interpretation of the component words. We presented literally plausible idioms in a sentence forcing a figurative or a literal interpretation and contrasted them with sentences containing idioms for which no literal interpretation was available and with unambiguously literal sentences. The major finding of the current study is that figurative comprehension in the case of both ambiguous and unambiguous idioms is supported by bilateral inferior frontal gyri and left middle temporal gyrus. The right middle temporal gyrus is also involved, but seems to exclusively process the ambiguous idioms. Therefore, our data suggest a bilateral neural network underlying figurative comprehension, as opposed to the exclusive participation of the right hemisphere. The data also provide evidence against proposed models of idiom comprehension in which literal processing is by-passed, since figurative processing demanded more resources than literal processing in the language network.

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