New Brain Mapping Model Brings Us A Step Closer To Mind Reading By Showing Where Specific Language Is Processed

How does the brain differentiate between different words? Pixabay Public Domain

The ability to read minds has been explored in entertainment for many years, and scientists have sought ways to do so since the beginning of brain science. Though mind reading technology worthy of a sci-fi movie is still a long way off, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have taken what they think is a step in the right direction. The team has built what it calls a “semantic atlas” that displays a vivid, multidimensional model of how the human brain organizes language and responds to words. The findings, published in Nature, could have important implications for decoding the brain’s inner monologue, and in turn helping clinicians understand patients who have a difficult time expressing language.

The study is based on an experiment during which scientists recorded the neural activity of students while they listened to stories. The findings showed that about one-third of the brain’s cerebral cortex, including areas thought to be dedicated to other types of cognition, is involved in language processing. Also, the study found that different people’s brains exhibited similar language maps.

“The similarity in semantic topography across different subjects is really surprising,” said lead author Alex Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at the university, in a press release.

Maps showing how language is processed in the brain could help doctors give a voice to patients who cannot speak due to a stroke, brain damage, or neurodegenerative disorder. The technology could potentially track the brain activity of such a patient and map the data to a model of semantic processing, allowing doctors to see what their patient was trying to express.

“To be able to map out semantic representations at this level of detail is a stunning accomplishment,” said Kenneth Whang, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s information and intelligence systems division. “In addition, they are showing how data-driven computational methods can help us understand the brain at the level of richness and complexity that we associate with human cognitive processes.”

Source: Huth A, de Heer W, Griffiths T, Theunissen F, Gallant J. Natural Speech Reveals the Semantic Maps that Tile Human Cerebral Cortex. Nature. 2016.

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