Scientists at UC Berkeley have mapped the brain’s inner regions where different ideas take birth. Such a complex neural atlas has been created for the first time. Humans have a wide variety of cells in this part of the brain, which provide them the ability to interpret the meaning of the words they are hearing.
The research being conducted by the scientists is mainly focusing on people’s ability to link words with their meanings—the most basic level of brain work. This phenomenon could, hope scientists, some day lead to machines that give voice to those who cannot speak, including stroke victims or victims of neurologic diseases like ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
In order to ensure their study is understood better, scientists have produced what they call a “semantic atlas”, something that highlights specific parts of the brain where words, or groups of words, connect with their meanings as each person perceives them.
Alexander Huth, a postdoctoral neuroscience researcher at UC Berkeley and author of the report, says, “These semantic maps give us, for the first time, a detailed map of how meaning is represented across the human cortex. Rather than being limited to a few brain areas, we find that language engages very broad regions of the brain”.
Huth says the brain discovery clears the decks for brain-machine interfaces, which may be able to interpret the meaning of words people want to express. Dr. Huth added that to perceive the concept, one should imagine a brain-machine interface that does not just figure out what sounds one wants to make, but also what the person actually wants to say.
The researchers at Berkeley worked with seven volunteers to create their atlas, and Dr. Huth was also among the study subjects. Each of the team members spent several hours lying in silence with eyes closed, listening through headphones to stories from the popular “Moth Radio Hour,” which is broadcast in the Bay Area on KQED.
A report published in BBC revealed, “Their “semantic atlas” shows how, for example, one region of the brain activates in response to words about clothing and appearance. The researchers found that these maps were quite similar across the small number of individuals in the study, even down to minor details. The work, by a team at the University of California, Berkeley, is published in the journal Nature.”
It had previously been proposed that information about words’ meaning was represented in a group of brain regions known as the semantic system. But the new work uncovers the fine detail of this network, which is spread right across the outer layer of the human brain. The results could eventually help those who are unable to speak, such as victims of stroke or brain damage, or motor neuron diseases.
“People’s ability to link words with their meanings lies at the most basic level of brain research and could ultimately lead to machines that give voice to those who cannot speak, the scientists say — stroke victims, for example, or victims of neurologic diseases like ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” according to a news report published by SFGATE.
“These semantic maps give us, for the first time, a detailed map of how meaning is represented across the human cortex,” said Alexander Huth, a postdoctoral neuroscience researcher at UC Berkeley and author of a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature. “Rather than being limited to a few brain areas, we find that language engages very broad regions of the brain.
According to a report in Washington Post by Sarah Kaplan, “The sound of his voice streams into the ear of the listener and vibrates in the snail shell-shaped cavity of her cochlea. The sounds are translated into electric impulses, which shoot along her nerves into her auditory cortex. Language processing centers start parsing the story for syllables, words, rhythm and syntax. And somehow, they’re able to figure out what it all means.”
For the first time, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have mapped that activity, determining where in the brain certain concepts — family, numbers, texture and touch — are processed and understood. The result of their work, which was published this week in the journal Nature, is an entirely new kind of tool for neuroscientists. Researcher Jack Gallant, a psychology professor at Berkeley, calls it a “semantic atlas” — an atlas of ideas.