Brain correlates of discourse processing: An fMRI investigation of irony and conventional metaphor comprehension

Zohar Eviatar, Marcel Adam Just

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Higher levels of discourse processing evoke patterns of cognition and brain activation that extend beyond the literal comprehension of sentences. We used fMRI to examine brain activation patterns while 16 healthy participants read brief three-sentence stories that concluded with either a literal, metaphoric, or ironic sentence. The fMRI images acquired during the reading of the critical sentence revealed a selective response of the brain to the two types of nonliteral utterances. Metaphoric utterances resulted in significantly higher levels of activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus and in bilateral inferior temporal cortex than the literal and ironic utterances. Ironic statements resulted in significantly higher activation levels than literal statements in the right superior and middle temporal gyri, with metaphoric statements resulting in intermediate levels in these regions. The findings show differential hemispheric sensitivity to these aspects of figurative language, and are relevant to models of the functional cortical architecture of language processing in connected discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2348-2359
Number of pages12
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partly supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Grant MH-29617. We thank Rachel Giora for comments on an earlier draft of the paper.


  • Figurative language
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Pragmatics
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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