Good Listening

One of the many reasons for our ‘big brain’ is our ability to talk to each other and this goes along with our other human abilities such as processing complicate arithmetic problems - even if we get them wrong, or playing music. So do we have a chunk of our brain devoted to these high-level functions or does the big chunk of grey matter multi task as necessary?

This debate has been going on a long time, but now Fedorenko et al from M.I.T have published the answer to the problem (1). They stuffed 48 participants into the big magnet, one at a time, of course, and talked their ear off as well as playing them nice music and scrambled music.

The fMRI scans lit up in quite different regions when listening to speech than when listening to music. The speech regions lit up most strongly when sentences were used. They are located high and a little way forward of center of the hemispheres, so hitting your spouse on the head with a skillet won’t help their understanding of what you are telling them.

Musically, we are working the little grey cells halfway down above your ears. No mention was made of the response of the candidate’s scans to an operatic aria followed by hip hop, but it’s nice to get one controversy settled.


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