New brain research reveals how we hear stories

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a discovery on brain research reported in the science  journal Nature

New brain research, published recently in the prestigious science journal Nature, shows how our capacity to understand words and stories arises from mental processes in virtually every region of the brain. “Nobody has actually done this before,” said Alex Huth, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, in a report published in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

In the past, scientists saw the brain as being built out of discrete modules. Now, they understand it more as a vast interconnected network where each area plays multiple roles. In this latest research they were able to identify at least 100 separate brain regions where activity appeared to cluster.

The way they conducted this research was particularly interesting. They used data from seven people who each spent about six hours listening to real-life stories from The Moth Radio Hour. Their brain responses to the stories were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This technique subdivides the brain into tiny compartments and records blood oxygen levels in each one. The levels show how hard the brain cells located within each area are working.

To learn more about this fascinating research, take three minutes to watch an engaging plain-English video from the Nature website.