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Some Brain Areas Are Strictly Devoted To Language, MIT Study Finds

A study released last week by MIT indicates that certain parts of the brain are just dedicated to language, which the school called “a finding that marks a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions.”

 http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/language-brain-0830.html

The study was lead by Evelina Fedorenko, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Science. It was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study addressed a question that’s dogged brain researchers: Does functional specificity apply to language? Scientists know that there are distinct parts of the brain that handle certain tasks, for example, moving your tongue or your fingers.

But functional specificity is harder to pin down and prove when more complex tasks are involved, such as language.

“Are there special brain regions for those activities, or do they use general-purpose areas that service whatever tasks are asked?” MIT said in a press release on the new study.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is the tool that researchers use to detect, locate and measure brain activity associated with cognitive tasks.

The MIT team took a new approach to fMRI in order to isolate parts of the brain dedicated to language. In the past, according to MIT, “fMRI studies of language are typically done by group analysis, meaning that researchers test 10, 20 or even 50 subjects, then average data together onto a common brain space to search for regions that are active across brains.”

But Fedorenko believed that for the most accuracy, fMRI data should be studied for each subject individually, so in other words, “patterns of activity in one brain would only be compared to patterns of activity from that same brain.”

So in the MIT research, scientists during the first part of the fMRI had their subjects do a complex language task, a “functional localizer,” while they tracked brain activity.

Next, researchers had subjects do seven tasks relating to things such as math, music, memory and cognitive control, which Fedorenko said are functions “most commonly argued to share neural machinery with language.”

As it turned out, eight of the nine brain regions that MIT studied didn’t exhibit activity for the seven non-language tasks.

According to the study, the findings point to a “striking degree of functional specificity for language.”

 MIT plans to continue its research on this topic, and it looks like it’s done some ground-breaking work already.

 

 

 

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