Scientists at UC Berkeley have placed volunteers in an fMRI scanner and monitored blood flow in their brain activity for two hours, while having them listen to stories. The result: they were able to map which areas respond to different words. They found that activity isn’t just limited to the regions typically associated with language, and that one word typically activates more than one area. They were able to group words in rough categories and determine, for instance, the area associated with numbers and measurements, or buildings and places, or clothing and appearance, family, home. Although each volunteer’s map turned out to be slightly different, it seems that different people have similar concepts in similar locations. This is the first time we’ve been able to map the semantic systems of the brain in such detail, discovering that words are grouped by meaning, and revealing just how complicated, and widespread, the word maps in our heads really are.
You can explore the map for yourself here