News / Science & Technology

Brain Study Sheds Light on Language Use

Denise Harris, 39, suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them
Denise Harris, 39, suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them

Multimedia

Mike O'Sullivan

Researchers say a study on the brain is shedding light on how humans process language.  The research, conducted in San Diego, Boston and New York, is helping scientists understand an important part of the brain known as Broca's area.

Denise Harris, 39, is helping with the study.  She suffers from epilepsy, and doctors at the medical center of New York University are monitoring her seizures in the hope of performing an operation to minimize them.

"I've been on many medications throughout my life and after a while, they don't work," she noted.  "I still get seizures.  So now, when they remove the part that the seizure is triggered from, it's supposed to stop."

While Harris is in hospital, she is helping scientists understand how the brain comprehends and uses language.

The results of the work, based on brain studies of Denise and other patients, were published in the journal Science.  

Using the process called Intra-cranial Electrophysiology, clinical tests in Boston and New York found that one small part of the brain, known as Broca's area, computes three different language functions, all within a quarter of a second.   The first deals with recognizing a word, the second with understanding the word's context in a sentence, and the third lets us articulate the word through speech.

One of the study's author, Eric Halgren of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, says this part of the brain is central to language.

"What we were able to find was that within a centimeter, around less than an inch, certainly, and probably half an inch, there were different regions - perhaps they overlap some - but they were doing, at different times, different processes, all within this small area," said Halgren.

Another study author, Ned Sahin, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University and the UC San Diego School of Medicine, says scientists have suspected for some time that the traditional understanding of the brain needs revision.

"Nearly every introductory text book, as well as people practicing in the field in speech pathology, for instance, teaches and believe that there is a separation of tasks and a division of labor between two very different parts of the brain, Broca's area [at the front of the brain] and Wernicke's area [further back in the brain], where Broca's area is responsible for producing, for speaking, and Wernicke's for comprehending," explained Sahin.

This study shows that Broca's area does more than scientists had realized.  Sahin says researchers increasingly realize that individual parts of the brain have multiple functions.

"…  because here's an example of one relatively small part of the brain that's doing three very different things at three different times, but all within the space of a quarter of a second," he added.

Eric Halgren says, despite our growing knowledge, much about the brain remains unknown.

"How does this hunk of flesh, which is not much different from a muscle - it's just a bowl of porridge - how does it produce the mind?  It's a total mystery," noted Halgren.

He says brain studies are shedding light on the pieces of the puzzle, and may one day solve the mystery. 

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid