Friday, August 5, 2011

Hearing what we see: silent reading and direct speech

From Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic Wire on brain activity during silent reading:
People who imagine voices may not be so crazy after all. While glossing over dialogue in books, readers will speak the voices--as they imagine the speaker--in their heads, a Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience study finds. The transcript of an Obama speech features his deep cadence in your head. Or Hermione sounds like Emma Watson. That sort of thing.
First author on the work is Bo Yao, a postgraduate student working on his PhD in Psychology at the University of Glasgow.  The experimental design is unique and the conclusions are powerful: silent reading of direct speech causes a strong "top-down" activation of parts of the auditory cortex, giving rise to the sensation of an "inner voice" for the text during the reading process.  In other words, it is not unusual that we hear what we see when what we see are words that directly represent someone else's speech.  Sounds a bit like synesthesia, doesn't it?

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