Listening and reading evoke almost identical brain activity.

Whether the words of a story come from listening or reading, it appears that the brain activates the same areas to represent their semantics, or meaning, according to new research.

Using detailed brain scans, scientists at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, have created interactive 3D semantic maps that can accurately predict which parts of the brain will respond to particular categories of words.

When they compared the semantic brain maps for listening and reading, the researchers found that they were almost identical.

It appears that the brain’s representation of meaning does not depend on which sense acquires the words that convey it.

A recent Journal of Neuroscience paper describes how the team came to this conclusion.

The findings yield fresh insights into the complex brain activity of comprehension. They should also improve the understanding of language processing difficulties such as dyslexia.

“At a time when more people are absorbing information via audiobooks, podcasts, and even audio texts,” says lead study author Fatma Deniz, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UC, Berkeley, “our study shows that, whether they’re listening to or reading the same materials, they are processing semantic information similarly.”

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