20 October – Valentina Cuccio

Deliberate Metaphors and Embodied Simulation

V. Cuccio & G. Steen

Recent studies of a behavioural kind (e.g., Glenberg & Kaschak, 2002), neuro imaging kind (e.g., Kemmerer et al., 2008) and neuro physiological kind (e.g., Papeo et al., 2009) have shown that the sensorimotor system is involved in language understanding. Listening to the sentence “John grasps the glass” activates hand-related areas of the motor cortex even if we are not carrying out any hand-related action. This mechanism is known as Embodied Simulation (Gallese & Sinigaglia, 2011) and has been shown to be a widespread mechanism in the brain, also characterizing the control of emotion and perception. The recruitment of Embodied Simulation has even been observed during metaphor comprehension (e.g., Boulenger et al. 2012; Desai et al., 2011). This has led Gibbs (2006) to conclude that metaphors are always processed as metaphors.

Yet the role of Embodied Simulation in the construction of figurative meaning is still controversial, with reports of contrasting empirical findings (e.g., Lai & Curran 2013). We will review this literature in the light of a novel definition of Embodied Simulation (Cuccio 2015a, 2015b) and its role at various stages of language processing, in interaction with the distinction between deliberate and non-deliberate metaphors (Steen, 2008, 2015). We claim that this approach can explain the apparent incongruity of results. We claim that only deliberate metaphor use recruits the full mechanism of Embodied Simulation and its potential for affecting the resulting mental representation of a metaphor in working memory.


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Kemmerer, D., Castillo, J. G., Talavage, T., Patterson, S., & Wiley, C. (2008). Neuroanatomical distribution of five semantic components of verbs: evidence from fMRI. Brain Lang, 107(1), 16-43.

Lai, V. & Curran, T. (2013). ERP evidence for conceptual mappings and comparison processes during the comprehension of conventional and novel metaphors. Brain & Language, 127(2), 484-496.

Papeo, L., Vallesi, A., Isaja, A., & Rumiati, R. I. (2009). Effects of TMS on different stages of motor and non-motor verb processing in the primary motor cortex. PLoS One, 4(2), e4508.

Steen, G.J. (2008). The paradox of metaphor: Why we need a three-dimensional model for metaphor. Metaphor and Symbol, 23(4), 213-241.

Steen, G.J. (2015). Developing, testing and interpreting Deliberate Metaphor Theory. Journal of Pragmatics. DOI: S0378216615000946