[PS-1.28] How does our brain process figurative expressions in a second language?

Citron, F. 1, 2 , Michaelis, N. 2 & Goldberg, A. 3, 2

1 Lancaster University, UK
2 Free University of Berlin
3 Princeton University, NJ

Recent neurophysiological findings suggest that metaphors evoke stronger emotional engagement in readers than their literal counterparts (significantly enhanced amygdala activation and increased heart-rate). Here, we investigated whether proficient speakers of a second language (L2) would show the same degree of emotional engagement in response to conventional metaphors as natives. In an fMRI experiment, 24 native German speakers and 22 proficient speakers of German as their L2 silently read metaphorical and literal sentences for comprehension. As expected, native speakers showed slightly but significantly more processing effort for metaphors than literal sentences, i.e., left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activation, and stronger emotional engagement (amygdala) for metaphors than baseline. L2 speakers instead showed the same degree of processing effort to both types of expressions, with widespread activation of language-related networks. Compared to native speakers, they showed stronger engagement of executive function areas: IFG, supplementary motor area, ACC, and caudate nucleus, associated with the ?switching network? in multilinguals. Interestingly, L2 speakers also showed more amygdala activation to both metaphors and literal sentences than baseline. This latter result suggests that the deeper the engagement with interesting linguistic material, e.g., problem solving operations, the stronger the emotional response to it.