The Importance of Sentences in Firing Up the Brain’s Key Language Processing Centers
The human brain’s language processing centers respond more strongly to complex sentences than straightforward ones. MIT neuroscientists conducted a study to discover which sentences trigger the brain’s language network the most. They found that sentences that are either grammatically unusual or have surprising content generate the strongest responses. This study is significant because it helps better understand how the brain processes language.
Understanding the Brain’s Language Regions
The researchers focused on the left hemisphere of the brain, which includes Broca’s area and other parts responsible for language processing. They compiled a set of 1,000 sentences from various sources and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain’s response to them. They then trained an encoding model to predict how the human brain would respond to a new sentence based on its response to the artificial language model.
Linguistic Complexity and Brain Response
The analysis revealed that sentences with higher surprisal and linguistic complexity generated higher brain responses. This means that sentences that are not too simple, but also not too complex and nonsensical, evoke the strongest response in the brain’s language network.
The researchers aim to further extend these findings to speakers of languages other than English and explore the stimuli that activate language processing regions in the brain’s right hemisphere.
This study was funded by various organizations including the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, National Institutes of Health, and MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The detailed findings of the study can be found in the Nature Human Behavior journal.