Metaphorical language processing and amygdala activation in L1 and L2

Francesca M.M. Citron, Nora Michaelis, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The present study aims to investigate the neural correlates of processing conventional figurative language in non-native speakers in a comparison with native speakers. Italian proficient L2 learners of German and German native speakers read conventional metaphorical statements as well as literal paraphrases that were comparable on a range of psycholinguistic variables. Results confirm previous findings that native speakers show increased activity for metaphorical processing, and left amygdala activation increases with increasing Metaphoricity. At the whole-brain level, L2 learners showed the expected overall differences in activation when compared to native speakers (in the fronto-temporal network). But L2 speakers did not show any distinctive activation outside the caudate nucleus as Metaphoricity increased, suggesting that the L2 speakers were less affected by increasing Metaphoricity than native speakers were. With small volume correction, only a single peak in the amygdala reached threshold for L2 speakers as Metaphoricity increased. The findings are consistent with the view that metaphorical language is more engaging for native speakers but not necessarily for L2 speakers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107381
StatePublished - Mar 16 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Amygdala
  • Emotion
  • IFG
  • Metaphor
  • Multilingualism
  • fMRI


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