Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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17 June 2016

Word Maps

As people listen to stories, the words stimulate activity in different parts of their brains, and now scientists have mapped this word-related brain activity in unprecedented detail. The researchers monitored blood flow in the brains of volunteers as they lay motionless in MRI scanners listening to a number of short narrated radio stories. Scans revealed that single words can activate multiple regions across the brain and that different parts of the brain respond to different types, or categories, of words. These categories, based on word meanings, are represented by the different colours on the maps. Red, for example, represents social words, such as 'child', while dark green represents numerical words such as 'four'. Strikingly, in different people, the same kinds of word categories activate the same kinds of brain regions—as shown in the video where three different people’s brains exhibit largely similar colour patterns.

Written by Ruth Williams

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