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Mind-reading scan locates site of meaning in the brain

Posted November 19, 2012

How would you identify what area of human brain is responsible for association of spoken or written words with their exact meaning? Certainly, the fMRI brain scan seems to be one of the most suitable alternatives. But what purpose lies behind this idea?

Probably the most far-reaching idea is to create a map of brain activity in relation to particular spoken vocabulary. Then it could be used in opposite direction – to tell what people are thinking by analyzing their brain images. Of course, we still need a lot of research to accomplish before we have a sci-fi mind reading machine. Although the results of such study could be used to help people who suffer from different types of brain damage:

Machines can already eavesdrop on our brains to distinguish which words we are listening to, but Joao Correia at Maastricht University in the Netherlands wanted to get beyond the brain’s representation of the words themselves and identify the activity that underlies their meaning. Somewhere in the brain, he hypothesised, written and spoken representations of words are integrated and meaning is processed. “We wanted to find the hub,” he says.

To begin the hunt, Correia and his colleagues used an fMRI scanner to study the brain activity of eight bilingual volunteers as they listened to the names of four animals, bull, horse, shark and duck, spoken in English.

The team monitored patterns of neural activity in the left anterior temporal cortex – known to be involved in a range of semantic tasks – and trained an algorithm to identify which word a participant had heard based on the pattern of activity.

Since the team wanted to pinpoint activity related to meaning, they picked words that were as similar as possible – all four contain one syllable and belong to the concept of animals.

Read more at: NewScientist

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