An international research team led by Carnegie Mellon University has found that when the brain “reads” or decodes a sentence in English or Portuguese, its neural activation patterns are the same.

Published in NeuroImage, the study is the first to show that different languages have similar neural signatures for describing events and scenes. By using a machine-learning algorithm, the research team was able to understand the relationship between sentence meaning and brain activation patterns in English and then recognize sentence meaning based on activation patterns in Portuguese. The findings can be used to improve machine translation, brain decoding across languages and, potentially, second language instruction.

“This tells us that, for the most part, the language we happen to learn to speak does not change the organization of the brain,” said Marcel Just, the D.O. Hebb University Professor of Psychology and pioneer in using brain imaging and machine-learning techniques to identify how the brain deciphers thoughts and concepts.

“Semantic information is represented in the same place in the brain and the same pattern of intensities for everyone. Knowing this means that brain to brain or brain to computer interfaces can probably be the same for speakers of all languages,” Just said.

Journal article:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27771346

Source:
https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/news/news-stories/2016/november/brain-decodes-language.html

Image caption: The above image compares the neural activation patterns between images from the participants’ brains when reading “O eleitor foi ao protesto” (observed) and the computational model’s prediction for “The voter went to the protest” (predicted)

 

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