Neuroscientists Discover a Brain Signal That Identifies if Speech has Been Understood
A new discovery from neuroscientists has allowed them to pinpoint the brain signal that indicates whether or not a person understood narrative speech. In 2018, a report published in Current Biology, Electrophysiological Correlates of Semantic Dissimilarity Reflect the Comprehension of Natural, Narrative Speech, detailed the findings.
Researchers from the Trinity College Dublin and the University of Rochester wired up participants to a scalp EEG to monitor their brainwaves as they listened to narrative speech. Using time-reversed speech, cocktail party attention, and audiovisual speech-in-noise, scientist watched for brain activity that would indicate whether or not the participant understood. What they found was that the brain responds to the contextual semantic content of each word when successfully comprehending natural speech.
Edmund Lalor was one of the collaborators on the project and is the associate professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the University of Rochester and Trinity College Dublin. Lalor says, “Speech is really amazing, but we’re so used to it and our brains are so good at understanding a steady stream of words that we often take it for granted.” Using these new findings, researchers can use this to test language development in infants or determining the level of brain function in older adults who could be developing dementia. Identifying whether speech has been understood could also help employers who require staff that are quick on their toes, like an air traffic controller.
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