Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous research suggests that the right hemisphere (RH) may contribute uniquely to the processing of metaphoric language. However, causal relationships between local brain activity in the RH and metaphors comprehension were never established. In addition, most studies have focused on familiar metaphoric expressions which might be processed similarly to any conventional word combination. The present study was designed to overcome these two problems by employing repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to examine the role of the RH in processing novel metaphoric expressions taken from poetry. Right-handed participants were presented with four types of word pairs, literal, conventional metaphoric and novel metaphoric expressions, and unrelated word pairs, and were asked to perform a semantic judgment task. rTMS of the right posterior superior temporal sulcus disrupted processing of novel but not conventional metaphors, whereas rTMS over the left inferior frontal gyrus selectively impaired processing of literal word pairs and conventional but not novel metaphors (Experiment 1). In a further experiment, we showed that these effects were due to right-left asymmetries rather than posterior-anterior differences (Experiment 2). This is the first demonstration of TMS-induced impairment in processing novel metaphoric expressions, and as such, confirms the specialization of the RH in the activation of a broader range of related meanings than the left hemisphere, including novel, nonsalient meanings. The findings thus suggest that the RH may be critically involved in at least one important component of novel metaphor comprehension, the integration of the individual meanings of two seemingly unrelated concepts into a meaningful metaphoric expression.