Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
It has been suggested that figurative language, which includes idioms, is controlled by the right hemisphere. We tested the right hemisphere hypothesis by using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to transiently disrupt the function of the frontal and temporal areas of the right versus left hemisphere in a group of normal participants involved in a task of opaque idiom versus literal sentence comprehension. Forty opaque, nonambiguous idioms were selected. Fifteen young healthy participants underwent rTMS in two sessions. The experiment was run in five blocks, corresponding to the four stimulated scalp positions (left frontal and temporal and right frontal and temporal) and a baseline. Each block consisted of 16 trials—8 trials with idioms and 8 trials with literal sentences. In each trial, the subject was presented with a written sentence, which appeared on the screen for 2000 msec, followed by a pair of pictures for 2500 msec, one of which corresponded to the sentence. The alternative corresponded to the literal meaning for idioms and to a sentence differing in a detail in the case of literal sentences. The subject had to press a button corresponding to the picture matching the string. Reaction times increased following left temporal rTMS, whereas they were unaffected by right hemisphere rTMS, with no difference between idiomatic and literal sentences. Left temporal rTMS also reduced accuracy without differences between the two types of sentences. These data suggest that opaque idiom and literal sentence comprehension depends on the left temporal cortex.