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PROcessing MEtaphors: Neurochronometry, Acquisition and DEcay

Project description

Figuring out figures of speech

Metaphors use non-literal meanings of words to convey a figurative meaning, but what are the cognitive processes involved? Neurologically, metaphors trigger a different response of the brain than literal meanings do. Metaphor comprehension is only realised at late developmental stages. Moreover, metaphor comprehension is often impaired in those with psychiatric disorders or neurological conditions. Using behavioural and electrophysiological methods, the EU-funded PROMENADE project will develop a comprehensive model which encompasses and explains these observations. It expects to find that literal meanings are accessed before figurative meanings are attained, and that different metaphor types may activate visual and sensory-motor processes. Overall, PROMENADE will lead to a better understanding of how metaphor skills develop, mature and deteriorate.


As the master figure of speech, metaphor is a powerful communicative tool that might nevertheless come with costs for our processing system. Research in different fields has highlighted that a full-fledged metaphor comprehension capacity is a late achievement in development, it may decay as a consequence of several pathological conditions, and it evokes distinctive electrical activity in our brain compared to literal equivalents. However, we still miss a comprehensive framework able to account for all these empirical findings in a unitary fashion, and this despite a vast number of linguistic and cognitive accounts of metaphor. This project will ground on theoretical insights from the pragmatics of language to sketch a novel and comprehensive model of metaphor understanding able to account for neural, developmental, and clinical findings. The leading hypothesis is that metaphor comprehension is an inferential process that involves first adjusting the lexical concepts, and then deriving the implicated -non-literal- meaning. The model also takes into account the multiplicity of metaphor types, which might in turn engage visual images and sensory-motor processes, in line with recent multimodal accounts of lexical and semantic processing. The model will be tested and refined through a series of behavioral and electrophysiological studies employing innovative experimental paradigms and involving neurotypical adults, children, and individuals with psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. This multidisciplinary approach will lead to a significant breakthrough in our understanding of metaphor as the pinnacle of human verbal creativity, in addition to disclosing important aspects for research on language processing, development and decay.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 854 188,00
27100 Pavia

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Nord-Ovest Lombardia Pavia
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 854 188,00

Beneficiaries (1)