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Metaphors in the mirror: The influence of teaching metaphors in a medical education programme


Medical students often face problems in using and understanding metaphors when communicating with a patient or reading a scientific paper. These figures of speech constitute an interpretative problem and students need key strategies to facilitate metaphor comprehension and disambiguation of meaning. This article examines how medical students' strategies of metaphor comprehension could be improved by specific teaching on metaphors using a Cognitive Linguistics approach. Medical students' ability to comprehend mirror neuron metaphors was assessed comparing the performance of students who did not receive any instruction about metaphoric extension strategies after a lesson on mirror neurons with the performance of students who received a special lesson both on mirror neurons and on metaphoric extension strategies. Students who received specific teaching on metaphor comprehension strategies performed better (85 %) and were more likely to use analogical reasoning and contextual clues than those who did not receive any specific teaching (55 %), who tended to adopt a violation strategy. Thus, their ability to give an exhaustive reinterpretation of metaphors seems to be affected by their ability to manage metaphoric extension strategies. These findings suggest that introducing a Cognitive Linguistics approach and using metaphoric extension strategies to aid metaphor comprehension may be an active and productive teaching strategy in a medical education programme.