New human and animal studies just released uncover the extensive brain wiring used in communication and provide new insights into how the brain processes and produces language, accents, and sounds. The research also explores the brain abnormalities in people with speech and language problems, such as stuttering, suggesting future treatment avenues. The new findings were presented at Neuroscience 2010, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news on brain science and health.
Communication involves a complex series of tasks, from processing and comprehending sounds to producing jaw movements. Better understanding of the brain circuitry involved may benefit the more than 46 million Americans who suffer some form of communication impairment.
Research just released shows that:
- The network of brain connections vital to understanding language is more extensive than previously thought. Researchers identified new speech-related pathways by mapping language areas in the brains of people with and without language difficulties (Nina Dronkers, PhD, abstract 837.13).
- People who stutter show abnormal brain activity even when reading or listening, which suggests stuttering is due to problems in speech processing, not just production (Kate Watkins, PhD, abstract 563.19).
- People process words spoken in their native accent differently compared with other accents, which may explain perceived communication difficulties and social inferences attributed to foreign accents (Patricia Bestelmeyer, PhD, abstract 169.13).
- Men who stutter show different brain connections than women who stutter. These findings may help explain why five times more adult men stutter than women (Soo-Eun Chang, PhD, abstract 790.9).
- Brain cells in songbirds are tuned to communicative sounds and respond even when those sounds are mixed with background noise. These findings provide insight into how people can focus on a conversation in a loud room, also known as the "cocktail party effect" (Frederic Theunissen, PhD, abstract 275.17).
This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations.
Society for Neuroscience