Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Scientist - Why a Gift Speaks a Thousand Words

Ever notice how good it feels to receive an authentic gift from someone? Science might have an answer to why it feels so good. But I am left to wonder: Who cares? Why do we have to quantify everything, as much as I enjoy the science?

Why a gift speaks a thousand words

  • 08 October 2008
AS LOVERS know, a bunch of flowers speaks volumes. Maybe that's because the brain makes sense of such gestures in the same way that it processes language.

Kristian Tylén from the University of Southern Denmark in Odense and colleagues wanted to know which part of the brain was used to understand the meaning behind items placed in a symbolic manner. They used fMRI to scan the brains of volunteers as they viewed pictures of everyday objects arranged to communicate meaning, such as flowers left on a doorstep, followed by the same objects in less meaningful settings, such as flowers growing in the wild.

The symbolic arrangements prompted more activity in regions associated with verbal communication, such as the left fusiform gyrus, used in reading, and the inferior frontal cortex, linked to semantic meaning (Brain and Language, DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2008.07.002).

Less conventional arrangements, like an art installation, also affected a "verbal" area - producing a pattern of brain activity previously associated with unusual verbal metaphors.

Previous research shows that the brain processes body language and facial expressions in a similar way to verbal communication. "It shows that language is more than just the processing of words - it pervades many of our activities," says Tylén.

The Human Brain - With one hundred billion nerve cells, the complexity is mind-boggling. Learn more in our cutting edge special report.

From issue 2677 of New Scientist magazine, 08 October 2008, page 16

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