Brain responses mediating idiom comprehension: Gender and hemispheric differences

Rajesh K. Kana, Donna L. Murdaugh, Kelly R. Wolfe, Sandhya L. Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Processing figurative language, such as idioms, is unique in that it requires one to make associations between words and non-literal meanings that are contextually appropriate. At the neural level, processing idiomatic phrases has been linked to recruitment of bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (DLPFC), the left temporal cortex, superior medial prefrontal gyrus (MPFC), and the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG). This functional MRI study examined the brain responses associated with processing idiomatic compared to literal sentences. In addition, gender differences in neural responses associated with language comprehension were also explored. In an fMRI scanner, thirty-six healthy adult volunteers viewed sentences that were either literal or idiomatic in nature, and answered subsequent comprehension questions. This sentence comprehension tasks activated mainly prefrontal language areas (LIFG, LSFG, and RMFG). Consistent with previous findings, idiomatic sentences showed increased response in LIFG. These results are discussed in the backdrop of the graded salience hypothesis. Furthermore, we found gender differences in brain activation and functional connectivity during this task. Women showed greater overall activation than men when comprehending literal and idiomatic sentences; whereas men had significantly greater functional connectivity between LIFG and LMTG than women across tasks. Overall, the findings of this study highlight the gender differences in neural responses associated with figurative language comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-26
Number of pages9
JournalBrain research
StatePublished - Jul 27 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Figurative language
  • Gender
  • Idiom
  • Salience
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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