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Unit 12: Language and the Brain

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Western University
Psychology 2134A/B
Marc Joanisse

Unit 12 Language and the Brain Overview In this lecture we will examine how language can be mapped to specific areas of the brain Of particular interest are findings that specific aspects of language ability can be localized to distinct parts of the brain Evidence of this is drawn studying language deficits following brain damage aphasia and also from brain imaging techniques In both cases the ultimate goal is to to localize language functionAphasia The term aphasia is reserved for brain damage in adults that leads to loss of some aspects of language Aphasia can be caused by Stroke lack of oxygen to the brain Traumatic head injury Surgery to alleviate different neurological disorders but which can damage healthy brain tissue Infection of the brain and tissue surrounding the brain Neurodegeneration due to diseases like Parkinsons and Alzheimers disease Basic Brain Anatomy The brain is made up of two hemispheres left and right Each hemisphere can also be further subdivided into different lobes Below is an image showing where each lobe is locatedThere are four lobes occipital parietal frontal temporalEach has been colored a distinct shade to make it easier to identify It turns out that each of these lobes has a distinct function Even better scientists have identified how subregions of these lobes are specialized for different types of cognitive or perceptual abilities For instance the occipital lobe is responsible for different aspects of vision including color and shape recognitionMuch of what we know about how these different regions work comes from looking at patients with brain damage and examining how their deficits correspond to the area of damage in their brain Broca and Tan The first finding that tied language deficits specifically to brain damage is the study of a patient nicknamed Tan In France 1871 a patient presented at the hospital with a major language disturbance He has lost almost all ability to speak with great effort he was able to only say a few swear words and utter the word tan hence his nickname The problem did not appear to be due to a problem with articulation or intelligence he was even able to understand most of what was said to him such as following instructions and could respond nonverbally by nodding his head or pointing to something he wanted His disturbance was studied by Dr Paul Broca After Tan died an autopsy of his brain showed a large lesion in the inferior region of the left frontal lobe
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