Interpreting Thoughts of Speaking Impaired

A new study that has grabbed worldwide attention.

Himanshu Sharma
LatestWritten by: Himanshu SharmaPublished at: Feb 04, 2012
Interpreting Thoughts of Speaking Impaired

Science decodesA major scientific breakthrough came when scientists inched closer to interpret thoughts of paralytics, aiding people who don’t have speaking capability. The technique of PLoS Biology uses electric signals from one’s brain and makes inferences on the reactions obtained. In the trial, electrodes are positioned on the brains of the subject. Thereafter, the research subject is made to listen to conversations, reactions of which are analyzed by expert scientists to figure out their thoughts.

The achievement was result of consistent research and studies in the associated sphere of direct neuro-control. In previous studies, subject with electrodes in direct brain contact were able to move cursor on a screen by simply thinking of vowel sounds. Referred as ‘functional magnetic resonance imaging’, the promising technique to track blood flow in the brain could be the one to interpret words or ideas in future.

Development in the sphere of directing neuro-control over virtual or physical devices will serve society, providing communication aid to comatose and locked-in patients. This breakthrough also means that ‘Stimulus Reconstruction’ climbs another step. Scientist confirmed that team is focused for more such findings on superior temporal gyrus (STG), a hearing apparatus that creates sense out of sounds signals.

Heading the study, researcher Brian Pasley of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California Berkeley confirmed that the primary focus is on brain’s interpretation of speech. In order to map out words and making a reaction out of it, researchers figured out how and where sound waves have been registered in the temporal lobe. 15 patients that are currently undergoing surgery for epilepsy or tumours were monitored. These patients were made to listen to the audio of several speakers reciting words and sentences. Thereafter, team of researchers closely analysed reactions brought by audio in subjects' STG region.

With an assistance of a model, patients were presented with words to think about. Reactions, words chosen by them were rightly guessed by the researchers. Moreover, the researchers were able to coin more words, chaining them all together in response to the brain waves they saw back into sound. In prosthetic context, the method will relieve people who have speech disorders that only imagine what they want to say.

Advantages of such scientific findings could be transformative, revolutionising 'augmentative and alternative communication'.