Emotional context modulates embodied metaphor comprehension

Dalya Samur, Vicky T. Lai, Peter Hagoort, Roel M. Willems

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Emotions are often expressed metaphorically, and both emotion and metaphor are ways through which abstract meaning can be grounded in language. Here we investigate specifically whether motion-related verbs when used metaphorically are differentially sensitive to a preceding emotional context, as compared to when they are used in a literal manner. Participants read stories that ended with ambiguous action/motion sentences (e.g., he got it), in which the action/motion could be interpreted metaphorically (he understood the idea) or literally (he caught the ball) depending on the preceding story. Orthogonal to the metaphorical manipulation, the stories were high or low in emotional content. The results showed that emotional context modulated the neural response in visual motion areas to the metaphorical interpretation of the sentences, but not to their literal interpretations. In addition, literal interpretations of the target sentences led to stronger activation in the visual motion areas as compared to metaphorical readings of the sentences. We interpret our results as suggesting that emotional context specifically modulates mental simulation during metaphor processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)108-114
Number of pages7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Context
  • Discourse comprehension
  • Emotion
  • FMRI
  • Metaphor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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