A new study revealed what parts of the brain are activated depending on the words people listen to, calling it a semantic atlas. The brain maps show how specific words activate certain areas of the brain. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley published the study on the journal Nature this week.
This breakthrough could potentially help people who lost the ability to speak, like people suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or victims of strokes. With this new discovery, scientist will be able to map out the brain process of this people and let them be understood through technology.
The brain’s dictionary
The researchers studied the brains of seven native English speakers. First, they listened to a podcast of the Moth Radio Hour, which is a program where people share emotional personal tales, while lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine that tracked their brains responses to 985 specific concepts.
The blood flow of the brain of the seven participants was mapped to 60,000 to 80,000 pea-sized regions across the cerebral cortex, the thin membrane that stretches across the entire brain. A dense word map covered the entire brain, and the researchers were able to map out which areas of the brain lit up in response to hearing different words in different contexts.
It was previously believed that large chunks of the brain handled different concepts separately, but now, this new discovery suggests that the meaning of words is more spread out, with concepts associated and cut apart across the cerebral cortex in connected waves. Also, they found that the words are grouped in certain areas of the brain depending on the meaning associated to it.
One of the findings, for example, is that in the right temporal parietal junction, an area a few millimeters wide, words like “wife,” “pregnant,” and “mother” made that part of the brain light up, and an area next to it processed some of the same social words, and also some other like “house” and “owner,” related to people and places.
— WBUR (@WBUR) April 27, 2016