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Human brain 'needs metaphors' to comprehend reality, say researchers in Alicante and Elche
By thinkSPAIN Team Thu, Jul 27, 2017
THE HUMAN brain 'needs metaphors to enable it to understand reality', according to recent research by two Spanish universities.
Scientists say the same brain areas are used to understand written and visual metaphors – the latter often being used in advertising – and that this hints that 'reality is not pure and objective' for most people.
It lends support to cognitive psychologists' theory of 'schema' – that is, humans understand and remember situations and events based upon their own unique world view formed through their environment and experiences, meaning that if 10 people witnessed the same incident, it is likely that their accounts of it would present 10 subtly-different versions of it.
“The brain takes care of processing information, and it would seem logical to suppose that the same type of information – whether the most simple or the most complicated – would be processed in a similar manner,” says research leader Dr María Jesús Ortiz from Alicante University's Faculty of Communication and Social Psychology.
“The significance of visual metaphors is that we live in a visual world, and metaphors are the order of the day, with the most evident being in advertising.”
Metaphors involve one image being used to describe another, either through pictures or words, and is frequent feature of fiction – such as: “She looked out on the soft white blanket outside, and decided to go skiing,” or “it was July, and the fiery golden disc in the sky was blinding the human lobsters staked out on the sand.”
The study has not been able to establish cause and effect, however: the brain's apparent need for metaphors may be due to humans' constant exposure to them from earliest childhood, since most people learn to read from story books – and if this is the case, culture may be an influencing factor with societies less exposed to literature and popular media, or which speak in less-expressive languages, relying less on metaphors.
This said, if exposure almost from birth to these sources created a 'need' for metaphors, the same would be found with similes – likening one object to another, such as 'the house was in such a mess that it resembled a war zone' - or personification, giving emotions and behaviour to inanimate objects or situations, as in 'the storm raged angrily' or 'this wine will caress your palate soothingly'.
Cause and effect aside, though, the research is likely to be a useful launch-pad for developing cognitive therapy for patients on the autism scale, including those with Asperger's, or with Alzheimer's, since these conditions normally mean the individual does not understand irony, metaphor or any stimuli that is not totally literal in meaning.
The Institute of Bio-Engineering at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche, south of Alicante, also contributed actively to the research involving 22 volunteers.
It has been published in the north American psychology magazine, Brain and Cognition.
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