Interpreting metaphors in real-time: Cross-modal evidence for exhaustive access

AbstractNatural language is replete with figurative expressions like 'my lawyer is a shark', and listeners are expected to intuitively understand the intended, rather than the literal, meaning of such expressions. But what cognitive resources are involved in attaining meaning for such sentences? Most research into metaphor comprehension has employed offline reading tasks that provide no insight into the time-course of metaphor processing. In order to investigate the moment-by-moment on-line processes involved in metaphor comprehension, the present study used a naturalistic cross-modal lexical decision paradigm (Swinney, 1979) with novel brief masked target presentations during and after the vehicle word ('shark'). Results obtained from a preliminary sample demonstrated priming of related target words across conditions, but no significant differences between conditions. These results may best be interpreted as supporting an exhaustive-access account of metaphor interpretation, which suggests that literal and metaphorical interpretations are simultaneously accessed during the early stages of metaphor/simile interpretation.

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