Much to the chagrin of my high school English teacher, my classmates and I always got our metaphors and similes mixed up.
But take heart, Mrs. Potter! It turns out that our brains did understand that there are differences between the two:
Midori Shibata and colleagues at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, asked 24 men and women to indicate, while in an functional MRI scanner, whether they could understand a series of metaphors or similes.
In keeping with previous fMRI research, participants' brains were active in the left inferior frontal gyrus. But Shibata's team also found that, when processing similes, there was an increase in activity in the medial frontal region, which may be linked to processes of inference. The right inferior frontal gyrus was more active for metaphors.