How does our brain distinguish between fact and possibility?

A complete brain analysis revealed a significant effect for modal force and a stronger effect for the actual situation on modal conditions. Credit: Tulling et al., ENeuro 2020

The brain responds differently to language that expresses truth, to words that convey possibility, a group of neurologists has found. His work provides new insights into the impact of word choice on how we distinguish between the real and the possible.

“In an age of massive fake news and misinformation, it’s more important than ever to separate the fact that we’re communicating from possible or just speculative,” said Liina Pylkkanen, a professor of linguistics and psychology at New York University. is the lead author of an article appearing in the magazine eNeuro.

“Our research reveals that information presented as truth triggers specific reactions in our brains when working with uncertainty signs such as ‘may’ or ‘power’,” adds Pylkkanen, part of NYU Abu. Dabi Institute.

“Language is a powerful device for transmitting information effectively, and the way information is presented has direct consequences for how our brain processes it,” adds Maxime Tulling, a doctoral student in the New York Department of Linguistics and lead author of the article. “Our brains seem particularly sensitive to information presented as truth, emphasizing the power of actual language.”

Researchers have long recognized that the brain responds to word choice in a variety of ways. However, the difference between the language in which the fact is expressed and the language in which it is expressed is less clear than the probability of expressing it. Into eNeuro The researchers’ main goal during the study was to find out how the brain calculates capacity, such as “there is a monster under my bed” with the words “may” or “power” as opposed to “modal”. , “There may be a monster under my bed.”

To investigate this, researchers have developed a number of experiments using formal semantic theories in linguistics in which subjects hear a series of sentences and scenarios expressed as both facts and probabilities – for example, “knights carry large swords and therefore make swords” (actual) and ” if the knights carry a great sword, so do the proofs “(possibly).

During these experiments, to measure the brain activity of research subjects, the researchers applied magnetoencephalography (MEG), a method of mapping nerve activity by recording the magnetic fields generated by the electric currents produced by our brains.

The results showed that actual language causes a rapid increase in nerve activity, that the brain responds more strongly, and that it is more relevant to fact-based expressions and scenarios than to the ability to communicate.

“When it comes to the brain, facts rule,” says Pylkkanen. “The brain regions involved in the development of speech quickly differentiated between reality and probability, responding more strongly to factual statements than to non-factual ones. These findings suggest that the human brain has a strong, perspectively regulated neural representation of factual information and interesting, weaker, more complex cortical signals that simply reflect the calculation of probabilities. ”

“By examining a language that contains explicit indicators of probability compared to factual expressions, we were able to find out which areas of the brain are rapidly separated from non-factual language,” Tulling said. “Thus, our research shows that the choice of words has a direct effect on the process of subconscious processing.”

Reference: Maxim Tulling, Ryan Law, Ailís Cournane, and Liina Pylkkänen, dated December 7, 2020, “Nervous Relationships of Modal Displacement and Negotiation Renewal under (Uncertain) Definition”. eNeuro.
DOI: 10.1523 / ENEURO.0290-20.2020

Other authors of the article were Ailis Cournane, an associate professor at the Department of Linguistics at NYU and an expert on the development of modal expressions in children, and Ryan Law, a researcher at the Abu Dhabi Institute of NYU.

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