Localizing Language in the Brain

Study Pinpoints Areas of the Brain Used Exclusively for Language

New research from MIT suggests that there are parts of our brain dedicated to language and only language, a finding that marks a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions.

Functional specificity, as it’s known to cognitive scientists, refers to the idea that discrete parts of the brain handle distinct tasks. Scientists have long known that functional specificity exists in certain domains: In the motor system, for example, there is one patch of neurons that controls the fingers of your left hand, and another that controls your tongue. But what about more complex functions such as recognizing faces, using language or doing math? Are there special brain regions for those activities, or do they use general-purpose areas that serve whatever task is at hand?

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A map of the different brain areas that are active while a subject performs a language task (red) and a cognitive control task (blue), showing that nearby but distinct regions are used for each activity. (Credit: Image courtesy of Fedorenko et al.)

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