Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers map brain areas vital to understanding language

Date:
November 21, 2013
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
In a new study, researchers uncovered the brain mechanisms that underlie discourse comprehension, or the ability to understand written or spoken language through the construction of rich mental models.

Researchers compared the discourse comprehension abilities of patients with damage to specific brain regions relative to patients without damage to those regions. Each image here represents one slice of the brain and the highlighted areas are those that are important for discourse comprehension.
Credit: Aron Barbey

When reading text or listening to someone speak, we construct rich mental models that allow us to draw conclusions about other people, objects, actions, events, mental states and contexts. This ability to understand written or spoken language, called "discourse comprehension," is a hallmark of the human mind and central to everyday social life. In a new study, researchers uncovered the brain mechanisms that underlie discourse comprehension.

Related Articles


The study appears in Brain: A Journal of Neurology.

With his team, study leader Aron Barbey, a professor of neuroscience, of psychology, and of speech and hearing science at the University of Illinois, previously had mapped general intelligence, emotional intelligence and a host of other high-level cognitive functions. Barbey is the director of the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at Illinois.

To investigate the brain regions that underlie discourse comprehension, the researchers studied a group of 145 American male Vietnam War veterans who sustained penetrating head injuries during combat. Barbey said these shrapnel-induced injuries typically produced focal brain damage, unlike injuries caused by stroke or other neurological disorders that affect multiple regions. These focal injuries allowed the researchers to pinpoint the structures that are critically important to discourse comprehension.

"Neuropsychological patients with focal brain lesions provide a valuable opportunity to study how different brain structures contribute to discourse comprehension," Barbey said.

A technique called voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping allowed the team to pool data from the veterans' CT scans to create a collective, three-dimensional map of the cerebral cortex. They divided this composite brain into units called voxels (the three-dimensional counterparts of two-dimensional pixels). This allowed them to compare the discourse comprehension abilities of patients with damage to a particular voxel or cluster of voxels with those of patients without injuries to those brain regions.

The researchers identified a network of brain areas in the frontal and parietal cortex that are essential to discourse comprehension.

"Rather than engaging brain regions that are classically involved in language processing, our results indicate that discourse comprehension depends on an executive control network that helps integrate incoming language with prior knowledge and experience," Barbey said. Executive control, also known as executive function, refers to the ability to plan, organize and regulate one's behavior.

"The findings help us understand the neural foundations of discourse comprehension, and suggest that core elements of discourse processing emerge from a network of brain regions that support language processing and executive functions. The findings offer new insights into basic questions about the nature of discourse comprehension," Barbey said, "and could offer new targets for clinical interventions to help patients with cognitive-communication disorders.

"Discourse comprehension is a hallmark of human social behavior," Barbey said. "By studying the mechanisms that underlie these abilities, we're able to advance our understanding of the remarkable cognitive and neural architecture from which language comprehension emerges."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Fridriksson, D. Guo, P. Fillmore, A. Holland, C. Rorden. Damage to the anterior arcuate fasciculus predicts non-fluent speech production in aphasia. Brain, 2013; 136 (11): 3451 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awt267

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Researchers map brain areas vital to understanding language." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131121135627.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013, November 21). Researchers map brain areas vital to understanding language. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131121135627.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Researchers map brain areas vital to understanding language." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131121135627.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins