Poster Session D, Monday, March 25, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
Changes in the neural representations of abstract science concepts after metaphoric reasoning
Vicky Tzuyin Lai1, Nyssa Bulkes1; 1University of Arizona
The conceptual metaphor theory posits that abstract concepts can be understood via concrete concepts metaphorically. Does the cognitive-neural representation of an abstract concept vary depending on whether the concept is reasoned about metaphorically or literally? We approached this question in the context of science learning. Some behavioral evidence showed that the use of metaphors increases depth of thought (Baumer et al., 2013) and retention of learning (Schwartz et al., 2006). We used EEG to probe whether there are neural changes to the same concept taught metaphorically and literally. Twenty-three undergraduates participated in this 2-session study. Their science knowledge was assessed before and after the study. In both the pre-training and post-training EEG sessions, they read 80 science words and pseudowords. During off-line training, a tutor explained half of the concepts metaphorically, and the other half, literally. The explanations were scripted and pre-tested to ensure aptness. We found that pseudowords, compared to words, elicited larger and more widespread N400s that typically index meaning activation, in both sessions, serving as a verification check. Critically, science words taught metaphorically elicited larger N400s than the same science words taught literally, but frontally distributed. Such frontal N400 effect has been found to index word concreteness (Barber et al. 2013). Further, the frontal N400 effect was positively correlated with science knowledge score improvement (weak r=0.26). We suggest that metaphoric reasoning enriches the abstract (science) concepts with concrete meaning instantiations. These instantiations may have strengthened the memory traces of the concept, which resulted in improved science knowledge.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Semantic