October 25, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Using an fMRI scanner to view word groups in the brain could take us closer to creating a universal ‘language decoder’.

colorful brain
Research has shown for the first time that it is possible to view different word groups using an fMRI scanner, which could potentially aid in creating a general ‘language decoder’ in the future.

The activity of different brain regions were recorded by researchers at The University of California, Berkeley, to decipher which areas of the brain processed different word categories whilst participants listened to stories on a radio podcast.

They found 12 different categories which included visual words such as colours, emotions, locations and also abstract ideas such as nature. The researchers also found that brain activation was not confined to the left side of the brain, thought to be responsible for language, but in fact spanned both hemispheres.

Although this research isn’t paving the way for a mind reading machine, which is likely to remain within the realms of science fiction (and rightly so), it could enable scientists to identify the different category of words that someone is thinking about simply by looking at fMRI images. It could also potentially be used to research neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s which are associated with a degradation of language processing regions in the brain.

Sarah Cowen-Rivers is studying for an MSc in Science Communication

Banner Image: Martin A Samuels.