Pediatric Therapy Corner: How Our Brains Figure Out What Words Mean Based On How They’re Said
It’s not just what you say that matters. It’s how you say it.
Take the phrase, “Here’s Johnny.” When Ed McMahon used it to introduce Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, the words were an enthusiastic greeting. But in The Shining, Jack Nicholson used the same two words to convey murderous intent.
Now scientists are reporting in the journal Science that they have identified specialized brain cells that help us understand what a speaker really means. These cells do this by keeping track of changes in the pitch of the voice.
“We found that there were groups of neurons that were specialized and dedicated just for the processing of pitch,” says Dr. Eddie Chang, a professor of neurological surgery at the University of California, San Francisco.
Chang says these neurons allow the brain to detect “the melody of speech,” or intonation, while other specialized brain cells identify vowels and consonants.