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This 3D brain may unlock the mysteries of language

brain research meaning mapped language mapping
Image used with permission by copyright holder
As much as we know about the brain, there’s still more we don’t know about it — we just last year started getting our heads around how we wake up in the morning. So it’s no wonder there’s a push for research to be done within this area. There are thousands of languages today, and if you add dialect, you’ve got yourself a really confusing cluster of words for your brain to deal with. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, took on the task of mapping meaning along the cerebral cortex across seven volunteers. Then they uploaded their findings to an interactive website for everyone to take part in. It’s an interactive 3D brain done in the name of science.

Results from the research team’s study suggest language is much more complex than we thought. The volunteers were tasked with listening to The Moth Radio Hour, a radio program where people tell emotional stories, while lying in a functional MRI machine. The MRI machine then checked all volunteers’ brain responses to 985 different concepts.

The team mapped the blood flow to 60,000 to 80,000 pea-sized regions across the cerebral cortex. So there was plenty of data to go on, and the study resulted in an effective overview of where spoken concepts had a reaction in the brain. Certain concepts showed up in several areas across the brain. For example, the word “top” appeared both in an area filled with clothing words, as well as in an area that consisted of numbers. Scientists have long since thought that separate chunks of the brain handles different concepts individually. “These data suggest we need to rethink how the brain organizes meaning,” says Stanford University neuroscientist Russell Poldrack to Science News.

But the testing group was relatively small, with a mere seven volunteers there is plenty of room to do a more sizable study. Researchers want to repeat the study with 50 or 100 people from different backgrounds.

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