Brain recognises verbal 'Oh-shit' wave

Nov 04, 2008

It seems that our brain can correct speech errors in the same way that it controls other forms of behaviour. Niels Schiller and Lesya Ganushchak, NWO researchers in Leiden, made this discovery while studying how the brain reacts to verbal errors. This research can contribute to improvements in the treatment of people who have problems with speaking or in understanding language.

Our brain is fairly good at preventing mistakes in speech. Unfortunately it does make the odd mistake. George W. Bush, famous for his verbal errors, made the mistake of referring to weapons of 'mass production' instead of 'mass destruction'. Former UK deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, had the same problem when he spoke of solving industrial disputes through 'meditation' instead of 'mediation'.

To see how the brain reacts to these kinds of mistakes, Schiller and Ganushchak asked volunteers to indicate whether or not certain sounds were in the words matching different pictures. So, for example, when shown a picture of a spoon, the volunteer was required to indicate whether or not a 'p' was in the word. This does not usually give any problems, but under pressure, when given less time, the volunteers make more mistakes. They then indicate for example that there is an 'f' in the word 'spoon' or that there is no 'p' in 'spoon'.

The researchers showed that the brain responds to such faulty utterances with a specific electrophysiological signal. It was already known that this wave occurs when making behavioural errors, such as pressing a wrong button by accident. This wave, called Error-Related Negativity, is informally known as the 'Oh-shit' wave. The brain registers at once that something is amiss.

The most important conclusion of the study is that the way in which the brain uses language is not fundamentally different from how other actions such as grabbing or walking are carried out. The 'Oh-shit' wave registers errors so rapidly that they can sometimes be corrected in time. In this way you can stop yourself from falling down the stairs or saying the wrong thing.

The results of this research provide a better understanding of the brain and how it processes languages. Such new insights into the mechanisms that affect speech can help to improve therapy methods for people with language impairments.

This study is part of a broader research project that attempts to analyse the working of the brain when using language. Niels Schiller set up the project in 2003 with a grant from NWO’s Vici programme. Lesya Ganushchak, who was a PhD student on that project, received a grant herself in 2008 from NWO’s Rubicon programme aimed at gaining experience abroad.

Source: NWO

Explore further: Artificial sweeteners linked to abnormal glucose metabolism

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The Sun's crowning glory

May 11, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Those who experience a total solar eclipse are overwhelmed as they look at the circle of light that surrounds our Sun. Laypeople may find it enchanting, but researchers have been racking their ...

Scanning the brain for impending error

Apr 20, 2012

(Phys.org) -- UA computer science doctoral student Federico Cirett is using new technology to predict, in advance, when people will make a mistake. He's been testing subjects taking the SAT exam in math.

Recommended for you

Connection found between birth size and brain disorders

15 hours ago

(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers has found what appears to be a clear connection between birth size and weight, and the two brain disorders, autism and schizophrenia. In their paper published in Proceedings of ...

A novel therapy for sepsis?

Sep 16, 2014

A University of Tokyo research group has discovered that pentatraxin 3 (PTX3), a protein that helps the innate immune system target invaders such as bacteria and viruses, can reduce mortality of mice suffering ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

drel
5 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2008
'mass production' instead of 'mass destruction'.
'meditation' instead of 'mediation'.

I bet they were reading off Teleprompters when these errors were made. I find that sometimes when I read out loud I stop thinking and end up misreading the words. When I'm talking I'm choosing my words myself and don't make these kinds of errors.
MGraser
3 / 5 (1) Nov 04, 2008
Sometimes I don't think our posters have that wave...