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Sight & Sound Processed Same by Brain

Sounds and images by the brain in a similar way, a new study finds.

Study participants had their brains scanned by 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.

"It turns out that the brain uses the same strategy to encode sounds than it uses to encode different images," explains lead author Marc Schönwiesner, a Université de Montréal psychology professor. "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."

The findings were detailed in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The next step for the researchers is to determine exactly how the brain distinguishes between rock drum beats to 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," Schönwiesner said. "This is a step may eventually let us reconstruct a song that a person has heard from according to the activity pattern in their brain."

If researchers "can reconstruct a song a person has heard according to an fMRI reading, we're not far off to being able to record brain patterns during sleep and reconstruct dreams," he predicts. "That would be really cool, although this possibility is decades of research away."

Live Science Staff
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