Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Words, gestures are translated by same brain regions, says new research

10.11.2009
Findings may further our understanding of how language evolved

Your ability to make sense of Groucho's words and Harpo's pantomimes in an old Marx Brothers movie takes place in the same regions of your brain, says new research funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health.

In a study published in this week's Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers have shown that the brain regions that have long been recognized as a center in which spoken or written words are decoded are also important in interpreting wordless gestures. The findings suggest that these brain regions may play a much broader role in the interpretation of symbols than researchers have thought and, for this reason, could be the evolutionary starting point from which language originated.

"In babies, the ability to communicate through gestures precedes spoken language, and you can predict a child's language skills based on the repertoire of his or her gestures during those early months," said James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIDCD. "These findings not only provide compelling evidence regarding where language may have come from, they help explain the interplay that exists between language and gesture as children develop their language skills."

Scientists have known that sign language is largely processed in the same regions of the brain as spoken language. These regions include the inferior frontal gyrus, or Broca's area, in the front left side of the brain, and the posterior temporal region, commonly referred to as Wernicke's area, toward the back left side of the brain. It isn't surprising that signed and spoken language activate the same brain regions, because sign language operates in the same way as spoken language does—with its own vocabulary and rules of grammar.

In this study, NIDCD researchers, in collaboration with scientists from Hofstra University School of Medicine, Hempstead, N.Y., and San Diego State University, wanted to find out if non-language-related gestures—the hand and body movements we use that convey meaning on their own, without having to be translated into specific words or phrases—are processed in the same regions of the brain as language is. Two types of gestures were considered for the study: pantomimes, which mimic objects or actions, such as unscrewing a jar or juggling balls, and emblems, which are commonly used in social interactions and which signify abstract, usually more emotionally charged concepts than pantomimes. Examples include a hand sweeping across the forehead to indicate "it's hot in here!" or a finger to the lips to signify "be quiet."

While inside a functional MRI machine, 20 healthy, English-speaking volunteers—nine males and 11 females—watched video clips of a person either acting out one of the two gesture types or voicing the phrases that the gestures represent. As controls, volunteers also watched clips of the person using meaningless gestures or speaking pseudowords that had been chopped up and randomly reorganized so the brain would not interpret them as language. Volunteers watched 60 video clips for each of the six stimuli, with the clips presented in 45-second time blocks at a rate of 15 clips per block. A mirror attached to the head enabled the volunteer to watch the video projected on the scanner room wall. The scientists then measured brain activity for each of the stimuli and looked for similarities and differences as well as any communication occurring between individual parts of the brain.

The researchers found that for the gesture and spoken language stimuli, the brain was highly activated in the inferior frontal and posterior temporal areas, the long-recognized language regions of the brain.

"If gesture and language were not processed by the same system, you'd have spoken language activating the inferior frontal and posterior temporal areas, and gestures activating other parts of the brain," said Allen Braun, M.D., senior author on the paper, "But in fact we found virtual overlap."

Current thinking in the study of language is that, like a smart search engine that pops up the most suitable Web site at the top of its search results, the posterior temporal region serves as a storehouse of words from which the inferior frontal gyrus selects the most appropriate match. The researchers suggest that, rather than being limited to deciphering words alone, these regions may be able to apply meaning to any incoming symbols, be they words, gestures, images, sounds, or objects. According to Dr. Braun, these regions also may present a clue into how language evolved.

"Our results fit a longstanding theory which says that the common ancestor of humans and apes communicated through meaningful gestures and, over time, the brain regions that processed gestures became adapted for using words," he said. "If the theory is correct, our language areas may actually be the remnant of this ancient communication system, one that continues to process gesture as well as language in the human brain."

Dr. Braun adds that developing a better understanding of the brain systems that support gestures and words may help in the treatment of some patients with aphasia, a disorder that hinders a person's ability to produce or understand language.

NIDCD supports and conducts research and research training on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech and language and provides health information, based upon scientific discovery, to the public. For more information about NIDCD programs, see the Web site at www.nidcd.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health—The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases.

Jennifer Wenger | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nih.gov

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How to track and trace a protein: Nanosensors monitor intracellular deliveries
19.06.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Accelerated reactions in condensed bio-matter?
19.06.2018 | Heidelberger Institut für Theoretische Studien gGmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

Im Focus: Photoexcited graphene puzzle solved

A boost for graphene-based light detectors

Light detection and control lies at the heart of many modern device applications, such as smartphone cameras. Using graphene as a light-sensitive material for...

Im Focus: Water is not the same as water

Water molecules exist in two different forms with almost identical physical properties. For the first time, researchers have succeeded in separating the two forms to show that they can exhibit different chemical reactivities. These results were reported by researchers from the University of Basel and their colleagues in Hamburg in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

From a chemical perspective, water is a molecule in which a single oxygen atom is linked to two hydrogen atoms. It is less well known that water exists in two...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New material for splitting water

19.06.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Cementless fly ash binder makes concrete 'green'

19.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Overdosing on Calcium

19.06.2018 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>