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Why your brain can predict speech before it's even been said

May 18, 2017
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Ever wondered why you can often predict what someone will say next when they're talking? In a study published in the open access journal PLOS biology, scientists from Newcastle University in the UK and a neurosurgery group at the University of IOWA in the US have discovered a fascinating link between the brain's auditory cortex as to why this is. Their findings are pointing to interesting leads, one of which suggests that if the brain is able to anticipate what speech is coming next, whether or not it is able to anticipate events. Being able to do this is a process that is significantly hindered if a person suffers from neurological or psychiatric disorders including dyslexia, schizophrenia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In order to analyze this further, the team of neuroscientists led by Dr. Yuki Kikuchi and Professor Chris Petrov of Newcastle University had monkeys and humans listen to sequences of words being spoken from a made-up language. Both species successfully learned the predictive relationships between the sounds that were spoken in the sequences given. The neural responses from both groups was shown to be strikingly similar. This shows that the human auditory cortex responds to speech from "evolutionarily conserved mechanisms," instead of any that are exclusively designed in people for the purposes of understanding speech and language. Both Professor Petrov and Dr Kikuchi are excited for the direction that their research could take them in. Petrov notes, "Now that we know humans and monkeys share the ability to predict speech we can apply this knowledge to take forward research to improve our understanding of the human brain." Kikuchi further elaborates that these mechanisms act in a similar method to predictive text on a smart phone and says that, "This could help us better understand what is happening when the brain fails to make fundamental predictions, such as in people with dementia or after a stroke."
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