To find out more, they examined the brain activity of seven individuals undergoing epilepsy surgery. Using a technique called electrocorticography, which involves measuring neuronal activity via electrodes placed on the surface of the brain, the team took recordings while the patients either read out loud or performed a silent reading task. Both of these tasks involved the subjects reading short pieces of text that scrolled across a video screen. The team also included a control situation in which recordings were taken while the participants weren’t doing anything.
During the overt (reading aloud) task, the researchers mapped which neurons became activated during specific aspects of speech, and used this to construct a decoder for each participant. After working out which firing patterns corresponded to particular words, they set their decoder to work on the participants’ brain activity during silent reading. Remarkably, they found it was able to translate words that several of the volunteers were thinking, using only their neuronal firing patterns.
The researchers are also using their decoder to predict what music a person is listening to by playing particular songs to the volunteers, and once again looking at the neuronal firing patterns during different aspects of the music.
“Sound is sound,” lead author Brian Pasley told New Scientist. “It all helps us understand different aspects of how the brain processes it.”
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