Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have used studies of brain waves to show how the brain makes efficient use of tiny cues and context to rapidly anticipate and process language. The studies have shown that different areas of the brain appear responsible for different aspects of comprehension. As one example, a specific brain wave pattern called N400, located in the back of the head, has implicated that area in analyzing the meaning of sentences. The N400 is a spike that occurs when a word is heard that is unexpected or out of context. The remarkable aspect is the speed with which this spike occurs after the word – literally fractions of a second. This, and other similar studies, have shown the amazing efficiency possessed by the human brain in using expectation and anticipation to assist in using language. The study, published in the journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science, was led by Jos Van Berkum at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.
The author’s research paper can be found here along with much detailed information. A little more information can be found at this blog post. My illustration derives from BrainWaves Educational Toys, which does have some cool toys.