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Brain rewrites boring speech to make it interesting

New Delhi, Sat, 24 Mar 2012 NI Wire

In a study scientists have observed that our brain stops us from getting bored when listening to uninteresting people by "rewriting" dull speech to make it interesting one.

The researchers have also observed that people listening to boring speeches adjust by creating an "inner voice" to drown out the offending speech.

The response in the brain starts the moment the brain listens to “monotonously-spoken" words it feels should be more communicative.

The consequent increase in the brain activity indicates to the presence of an inner voice, which makes "more vivid speech" in the place of boring speech, says the study conducted by scientists at the University of Glasgow's Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.

"You may think the brain need not produce its own speech while listening to one that is already available. But, apparently, the brain is very picky on the speech it hears," Dr Bo Yao, the principal author of the research has been quoted as saying to the Telegraph.

"When the brain hears monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations which it expects to be more vivid, the brain simply 'talks over' the speech it hears with more vivid speech utterances of its own.

"By doing so, the brain attempts to optimise the processing of the incoming speech, ensuring more speedy and accurate responses," Yao stated.

During the research, researchers scanned the brains of 18 participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they heard audio clips of short stories containing direct or indirect speech quotations.

The direct speech heard, for example when Mary said: "That film was terrible, I've never been so bored in my life", were spoken either "vividly" or "monotonously".

In this study, changes in oxygen levels also monitored. The changes in oxygen level in the blood showed that activity in areas of the brain's auditory cortex, which deals with human speech, increased when people listened to dull spoken direct speech quotes.

Researchers are of the opinion that this is likely to reflect the presence of an inner voice.

Previous year, research conducted by the same scientists reached at the conclusion that the brain could also create an inner voice when people read silently to themselves.

Professor Christopher Scheepers, one of the joint authors of the study has been quoted as saying "Direct speech quotations are generally assumed to be more vivid and perceptually engaging than indirect speech quotations as they are more frequently associated with depictions of voices, facial expressions and co-speech gestures.

"When the brain does not receive actual stimulation of auditory speech during silent reading, it tends to produce its own to enliven written direct speech quotations - a phenomenon commonly referred to as the 'inner voice'.

"Now it appears the brain does the same even when listening to monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations," he explained.

The NeuroImage journal has published the finding in this issue.

--with inputs from ANI

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