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Rigidity, chaos and integration: hemispheric interaction and individual differences in metaphor comprehension.


Neurotypical individuals cope flexibly with the full range of semantic relations expressed in human language, including metaphoric relations. This impressive semantic ability may be associated with distinct and flexible patterns of hemispheric interaction, including higher right hemisphere (RH) involvement for processing novel metaphors. However, this ability may be impaired in specific clinical conditions, such as Asperger syndrome (AS) and schizophrenia. The impaired semantic processing is accompanied by different patterns of hemispheric interaction during semantic processing, showing either reduced (in Asperger syndrome) or excessive (in schizophrenia) RH involvement. This paper interprets these individual differences using the terms Rigidity, Chaos and Integration, which describe patterns of semantic memory network states that either lead to semantic well-being or are disruptive of it. We argue that these semantic network states lie on a rigidity-chaos semantic continuum. We define these terms via network science terminology and provide network, cognitive and neural evidence to support our claim. This continuum includes left hemisphere (LH) hyper-rigid semantic memory state on one end (e.g., in persons with AS), and RH chaotic and over-flexible semantic memory state on the other end (e.g., in persons with schizophrenia). In between these two extremes lie different states of semantic memory structure which are related to individual differences in semantic creativity. We suggest that efficient semantic processing is achieved by semantic integration, a balance between semantic rigidity and semantic chaos. Such integration is achieved via intra-hemispheric communication. However, impairments to this well-balanced and integrated pattern of hemispheric interaction, e.g., when one hemisphere dominates the other, may lead to either semantic rigidity or semantic chaos, moving away from semantic integration and thus impairing the processing of metaphoric language.