January 31, 2012

Scientists decode brain waves to eavesdrop on what we hear

(January 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 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.”

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