Grasping proverbs linked to brain | HT Tech

Grasping proverbs linked to brain

A new study has helped scientists find an area of human brain they believe plays a key role in deciphering figures of speech, reports S Rajagopalan.

| Updated on: May 31 2005, 03:31 IST

Are you unable to make sense of proverbs and metaphors? The fault may lie with a defective or damaged left angular gyrus region of your brain, says Vilayanur S Ramachandran, director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego.

The finding, presented at the American Psychological Society's annual meeting  in Los Angeles on Friday, may fill one of the many grey areas in understanding the human brain.

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"While it would be premature to conclude that the angular gyrus is the 'metaphor centre' of the human brain, we suggest that the evolution of the dominant angular gyrus contributed enormously to the evolution of many quintessentially human abilities, including metaphorical — and other abstract thinking," he says.

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As part of his research, reported by Scientific American, a set of four volunteers who had experienced damage to the left angular gyrus region of their brains due to stroke or tumour were put through intensive comprehension tests.

All the volunteers were fluent in English, intelligent, mentally lucid and able to engage in normal conversations. But, when confronted with figures of speech, they were clueless. Ramachandran and his colleagues found their interpretations were completely off the mark.

When asked for the meanings of common proverbs and metaphors such as "the grass is always greener on the other side", "reaching for the stars" or "all that glitters is not gold", the volunteers tended to interpret them literally.

One of them, a former physician of good standing, got all the 20 proverbs wrong. When "all that glitters is not gold" was put to him, he came up with the explanation that one should be careful while buying jewellery as the sellers could make a fast buck.

"Any monkey can reach for a peanut, but only a human can reach for the stars or even understand what that means," remarks Ramachandran, who has been named by Newsweek magazine as a member of its "Century Club" — a hundred most prominent people to watch in the 21st century.

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First Published Date: 31 May, 01:10 IST