‘Our brains produce rhythmic activity at a similar rate to the syllables in speech’ – new research

I wonder if those same brain rhythms, supplemented by voice as in the anthology Let Me Tell You a Story, might enhance the reading experience for people whose reading is interrupted by stumbles over unfamiliar words. The article below is re-published with permission.

In loud rooms our brains ‘hear’ in a different way – new findings

Joachim Gross, University of Glasgow and Hyojin Park, University of Glasgow

When we talk face-to-face, we exchange many more signals than just words. We communicate using our body posture, facial expressions and head and eye movements; but also through the rhythms that are produced when someone is speaking. A good example is the rate at which we produce syllables in continuous speech – about three to seven times a second. In a conversation, a listener tunes in to this rhythm and uses it to predict the timing of the syllables that the speaker will use next. This makes it easier for them to follow what is being said.

Many other things are also going on. Using brain-imaging techniques we know for instance that even when no one is talking, the part of our brain responsible for hearing produces rhythmic activity at a similar rate to the syllables in speech. When we listen to someone talking, these brain rhythms align to the syllable structure. As a result, the brain rhythms match and track in frequency and time the incoming acoustic speech signal.


Hit that perfect beat.
DesignPrax

When someone speaks, we know their lip movements help the listener, too. Often these movements precede the speech – opening your mouth, for example – and provide important cues about what the person will say. Yet even on their own, lip movements contain enough information to allow trained observers to understand speech without hearing any words – hence some people can lip-read, of course. What has been unclear until now is how these movements are processed in the listener’s brain.

Lip-synching

This was the subject of our latest study. We already knew that it is not just a speaker’s vocal chords that produce a syllable rhythm, but also their lip movements. We wanted to see whether listeners’ brain waves align to speakers’ lip movements during continuous speech in a comparable way to how they align to the acoustic speech itself – and whether this was important for understanding speech.

Our study has revealed for the first time that this is indeed the case. We recorded the brain activity of 44 healthy volunteers while they watched movies of someone telling a story. Just like the auditory part of the brain, we found that the visual part also produces rhythms. These align themselves to the syllable rhythm that is produced by the speaker’s lips during continuous speech. And when we made the listening conditions more difficult by adding distracting speech, which meant that the storyteller’s lip movements become more important to understand what they were saying, the alignment between the two rhythms became more precise.


Helpful lips.
Rocketclips, Inc

In addition, we found that the parts of the listener’s brain that control lip movements also produce brain waves that are aligned to the lip movements of the speaker. And when these waves are better aligned to the waves from the motor part of the speaker’s brain, the listener understands the speech better. This supports the idea that brain areas that are used for producing speech are also important for understanding speech, and could have implications for studying lip-reading between people with hearing difficulties. Having shown this in relation to a speaker and listener, the next step will be to look at whether the same thing happens with brain rhythms during a two-way conversation.

Why are these insights interesting? If it is correct that speech normally works by establishing a channel for communication through aligning brain rhythms to speech rhythms – similar to tuning a radio to a certain frequency to listen to a certain station – our results suggest that there are other complementary channels that can take over when necessary. Not only can we tune ourselves to the rhythms from someone’s vocal chords, we can tune into the equivalent rhythms from their lip movement. Instead of doing this with the auditory part of our brain, we do it through the parts associated with seeing and movement.

And neither do you need to be a trained lip-reader to benefit – this is why even in a noisy environment such as a pub or a party, most people can still communicate with each other.

The Conversation

Joachim Gross, Professor in Psychology, University of Glasgow and Hyojin Park, Research Associate, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Meet the Anthology Authors: embarrassingly, it’s my turn

This anthology began as a small local project, which is why I find myself both editor and contributor, and it grew. The reasons behind it are here and they have to do with literacy and privacy, and the indignity of having things read to you when you’re an adult. This book provides a model of what could be done to alleviate those problems. More.

Let Me Tell You a Story – published today

“Sometimes I can read a poem on the page and I can’t quite make out what the author’s intention was: there’s something there, I can tell, but it’s hidden in the language-mist. When I hear the poem read aloud, (or accompanied by music, or acted out by a variety of voices: anything is possible once you start down this road) then the clouds are blown away and the poem does what it meant to say on the tin, to re-fashion an advertising slogan.” Ian McMillan.

Announcement here.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Meet the Anthology Authors: Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Nguyen Phan Que Mai is fast becoming one of Vietnam’s foremost poets and seems to have been everywhere touring and performing her work, including India, America, and China just this year. I reviewed her book The Secret of Hoa Sen here earlier and in Let Me Tell You a Story, you can read some of her other work and also hear it performed. Check out her bio. 

Meet the Anthology Authors – Anne O’Brien

Anne is a writer of short stories that have a quintessential Irishness about them – soft and cosy and laced with tiny toothpicks of funny, wry, blunt honesty. There’s more here

Ian McMillan on ‘Let Me Tell You a Story’

Ian McMillan

Photo credit Andy Boag

Ian McMillan is a poet, broadcaster, and presenter of BBC Radio Three’s The Verba programme that celebrates the spoken (and sung, and chanted, and pounded, and whispered) word. Ian’s appreciation of language; its flows and rhythms and its very many forms are what drew me to listening weekly to his programme. His way of showing language as living thing that can dance on the page if you let it out of the reverential box it sometimes gets trapped in led to me ask if he would consider writing this piece for us.

“Sometimes I can read a poem on the page and I can’t quite make out what the author’s intention was: there’s something there, I can tell, but it’s hidden in the language-mist. When I hear the poem read aloud, (or accompanied by music, or acted out by a variety of voices: anything is possible once you start down this road) then the clouds are blown away and the poem does what it meant to say on the tin, to re-fashion an advertising slogan.”

Ian is a Yorkshireman; he writes the way he speaks, and he speaks with a voice like a pint of strong dark beer in a big dimpled glass. So ease yourself into the soft-padded fireside seat of your favourite minds-eye pub, take that big glass in your hand – both hands if necessary – and give your minds-ears a treat.

 

Sugar and Snails – a novel by Anne Goodwin

This début novel, published by Inspired quill which “pledg[es] a percentage of profits to different charities, running heavily subsidised workshops, or donating books to those who may not have access to them otherwise” is a searing tale of personal discovery made all the more authentic by the fact that the author is a psychologist and knows what she’s talking about when it comes to the way human distress and disorganisation presents itself. My review is here The Psychologist and the book is here. It’s a cracking read.

‘Let Me Tell You a Story’

cover 10.5This anthology, which links voice recordings of the short stories and poems directly to the text on the page, is due out in late April. Despite being very simple, this application of the technique may be a world first and has implications for the delivery of essential information to populations whose reading skills are not as perfect as the material often requires. There’s more here at Readalongreads.