Until the research completed by three brain and cognitive science professors was published, scientists were not aware that the brain not only considers the sound of words, but that it also considers their meanings.

The researchers, which included William R. Kenan Professor Richard Aslin, Professor Daphne Bavelier and former UR graduate student Kathleen Pirog Revill, found that our brains are capable of considering in a split second the meaning of words without hearing them in full.

The researchers focused on a part of the brain called ‘V5,” which is activated when a person sees motion. The objective was to see if the V5 is activated when a listener hears familar words that sound familiar or convey movement.

A functional MRI was not sufficient to record this specific kind of brain imagery, so the researchers invented a new language of their own. This is because many English words have several different interpretations and meanings. The researchers created new verbs to correlate with a computer program that showed irregular shapes and gave the shapes specific names.

For example, test subjects would see the word ‘biduko” and observe a moving shape, and the shape would then change color when the word ‘biduka” flashed on a screen.

The subjects’ recorded brain activities showed that the V5 section was activated for both ‘biduko” and ‘biduka,” though the activity would vary in intensity.

The MRIs showed that, in a split second, the brain considers the meaning of motion and color when hearing the words before hearing the endings.

‘It just makes sense that your brain would do it this way,” Aslin said, one of the researchers for the project.

‘Why wait until the end of the word to try to figure out what its meaning is?”

Hasan is a member of the class of 2012.


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