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Human sound, vision wired through same 'black box' in brain

Scientists from the University of Montreal (U-M) and Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University explain how the same neural code in the brain allows people to distinguish between different types of sounds, such as speech and music, or different images.

world Updated: Aug 13, 2009 17:38 IST

Sounds and images share a similar neural code in the human brain, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Montreal (U-M) and Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University explain how the same neural code in the brain allows people to distinguish between different types of sounds, such as speech and music, or different images.

Participants were recruited to undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), a non-invasive form of brain mapping used to determine how the brain recognizes different characteristics in musical instruments, words from conversations or environmental sounds.

Subjects underwent an exhaustive three hours of FMRI exams to provide precise information about how the brain reacts when different sounds are played.

"It turns out that the brain uses the same strategy to encode sounds as the one to encode different images," explained study co-author Marc Sch?nwiesner.

"This may make it easier for people to combine sounds and images that belong to the same object, such as the dribbling of a basketball," he said.

The next step for the researchers is to determine exactly how the brain distinguishes between rock drum beats and the strings of a symphony or from a French conversation to an English one.

"Our goal is to disentangle exactly how the brain extracts these different types of sounds. This step may eventually let us reconstruct a song that a person has heard according to the activity pattern in their brain," explained Sch?nwiesner.

As scientists advance in decoding brain activation patterns, mind-boggling applications can be envisaged, he said.

These findings were published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.