Adeen Flinker/UC Berkeley

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

ScienceShot: A Brain Wave Worth a Thousand Words

If it wasn't enough that scientists could read your memories, they can now listen in on them, too. In a new study, neuroscientists connected a network of electrodes to the hearing centers of 15 patients' brains (image above) and recorded the brain activity while they listened to words like "jazz" or "Waldo." They saw that each word generated its own unique pattern in the brain. So they developed two different computer programs that could reconstruct the words a patient heard just by analyzing his or her brain activity. Reconstructions from the better of the two programs (the third sound in the audio; the first sound is the word the subjects heard, and the second is the other computer program's reconstruction) were good enough that the researchers could accurately decipher the mystery word 80% to 90% percent of the time. Because there's evidence that the words we hear and the words we recall or imagine trigger similar brain processes, the study, published online today in PLoS Biology, suggests scientists may one day be able to tune in to the words you're thinking—a potential boon for patients who are unable to speak due to Lou Gehrig's disease or other conditions.

See more ScienceShots.