How does our brain decode vibrations in the air into words and sentences? Understanding everyday conversations appears an easy and automatic task, particularly as we acquire the capacity to do so seemingly effortlessly in early childhood, yet how we manage this remarkable ability is poorly understood. Human listeners can understand each other under a wide variety of everyday listening conditions - at a crowded party, over a poor telephone connection - and can understand speakers irrespective of their speech style and regional or foreign accent. Our research uses state-of-the-art neuroscientific tools involving functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) of the brain to try to understand this fundamentally human ability. We use fMRI to pinpoint the location of specific processes in the brain and can then use TMS to temporarily disturb the brain’s electrical signalling. By applying TMS to someone’s head we can (temporarily) disrupt brain activity in a healthy person.
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