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Scientists decode brain waves to eavesdrop on what we hear
Date:1/31/2012

Neuroscientists may one day be able to hear the imagined speech of a patient unable to speak due to stroke or paralysis, according to University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

These scientists have succeeded in decoding electrical activity in the brain's temporal lobe the seat of the auditory system as a person listens to normal conversation. Based on this correlation between sound and brain activity, they then were able to predict the words the person had heard solely from the temporal lobe activity.

"This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig's disease and can't speak," said co-author Robert Knight, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. "If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."

"This research is based on sounds a person actually hears, but to use it for reconstructing imagined conversations, these principles would have to apply to someone's internal verbalizations," cautioned first author Brian N. Pasley, a post-doctoral researcher in the center. "There is some evidence that hearing the sound and imagining the sound activate similar areas of the brain. If you can understand the relationship well enough between the brain recordings and sound, you could either synthesize the actual sound a person is thinking, or just write out the words with a type of interface device."

In addition to the potential for expanding the communication ability of the severely disabled, he noted, the research also "is telling us a lot about how the brain in normal people represents and processes speech sounds."

Pasley and his colleagues at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, University of Maryland and The Johns Hopkins University report their findings Jan. 31 in the open-access journal PLoS Biology.

Help from epilepsy patients

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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
Source:Eurekalert

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