WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists may one day be able to read the minds of people who have lost the ability to speak, new research suggests.
In their report, published in the Jan. 31 online edition of the journal PLoS Biology, University of California, Berkeley researchers describe how they have found a way to analyze a person's brain waves in order to reconstruct words the person hears in normal conversation.
This ability to decode electrical activity in an area of the auditory system called the superior temporal gyrus may one day enable neuroscientists to hear the imagined speech of stroke or other patients who can't speak, or to eavesdrop on the constant, internal monologues that run through people's minds, the researchers explained in a journal news release.
"This is huge for patients who have damage to their speech mechanisms because of a stroke or Lou Gehrig's disease [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] and can't speak," Robert Knight, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, said in the news release. "If you could eventually reconstruct imagined conversations from brain activity, thousands of people could benefit."
However, the study's first author, post-doctoral researcher Brian Pasley, noted that "this research is based on sounds a person actually hears, but to use this for a prosthetic device, these principles would have to apply to someone who is imagining speech."
He explained that "there is some evidence that perception and imagery may be pretty similar in 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."
For the study, Pasley's team tested two different computational models that were designed to match spoken sounds to the pattern of activity in the electrodes when a patient heard a single w
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