When you hear that a leader has a “gritty style,” do you sometimes imagine gravel in your hand?
The mind may be connecting common metaphors like this to the tactile areas of the brain. New brain imaging research published in the journal Brain & Language in February 2012 reveals that the parietal operculum, responsible for sensing texture and touch, is also activated when someone listens to a sentence with a textural metaphor. The parietal operculum is not activated by a similar, non-textured phrase, like “she is fearless” or “he is impolite.”
“We see that metaphors are engaging the areas of the cerebral cortex involved in sensory responses even though the metaphors are quite familiar,” says senior author Krish Sathian, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, rehabilitation medicine and psychology at Emory University. “This result illustrates how we draw upon sensory experiences to achieve understanding of metaphorical language.”
Seven college students who volunteered for the study were asked to listen to sentences containing textural metaphors as well as sentences that were matched for meaning and structure, and to press a button as soon as they understood each sentence. Blood flow in their brains was monitored by functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Regions of the brain activated by hearing textural metaphors are shown in green. Yellow and red show regions activated by sensory experience of textures visually and through touch.
Language with rich sensory details enlivens a story, and may contribute to narrative transport, the experience of being lost in a story. Effective stories, whether verbal or written, include enough sensory elements engage others.
Smooth as silk, a grating voice, a bubbly personality.
What are some of your favorite textural metaphors for effective business stories?
*Brain image courtesy of Emory University
*Grit photo courtesy of tolomea