Saturday February 7, 2004

Make Your Motor Cortex Dance

"Brain areas that are used to perform an action are also needed to comprehend words related to that action," ... "Remarkably, just the reading of feet-related action words such as dance makes [the motor cortex] move its 'feet.'"

[cf "The Brain's Word Act: Reading verbs revs up motor cortex areas", by Bruce Bower, in Science News, week of Feb 7, 2004

Wow! I like learning about how the brain processes words. A few years ago, we read of a study in which people who had been blind since birth or early childhood, but who had recently had their sight restored, were asked to identify images such as squares and triangles (at different angles, anywhere in their visual field). The results inside the brain differed markedly from those of people who had been sighted since birth.

Always-sighted people look at a triangle and see ... a triangle. Their brain "lights up" in a particular special area that says "I instantly know this shape". The people for whom sight was a relatively new thing also identified a triangle — but their brains were doing calculations to tell them what they saw. Their brain activity indicated that they saw, not an instantly recognizable shape, but three lines, three points three angles. They "built" a triangle in their minds, then determined that what they saw must in fact be a triangle.

Now we're getting some fascinating research into the relationship between language and action. (There's a book by S.I. Hayakawa called "Language in Thought and Action". The book is about Applied General Semantics.The title, however, resonates well with recent studies of neural activity, conducted in Cambridge, England.

For more than 60 years, scientists have known that a strip of neural tissue that runs ear-to-ear along the brain's surface orchestrates most voluntary movement, from raising a fork to kicking a ball. A new brain-imaging study has revealed that parts of this so-called motor cortex also respond vigorously as people do nothing more than silently read words.

Not just any words get those neurons going, however. They have to be action words—active verbs.

As volunteers read a verb referring to a face, arm, or leg action—such as lick, pick, or kick—the motor cortex areas that control the specified action exhibit high rates of blood flow, a sign of intense neural activity, say neuroscientist Friedemann Pulvermüller of the Medical Research Council in Cambridge, England, and his colleagues. For instance, reading the word lick triggers pronounced blood flow in sites of the motor cortex associated with tongue and mouth movements.

Make Your Motor Cortex Dance ( in category SciTech , Special Interests ) - posted at Sat, 07 Feb, 11:05 Pacific | «e»