July 01, 2015

Brain Meets Word: The Neuroscience Behind Communication

Tongues, songbirds and perfect fifths, oh my! Seemingly disparate subjects yes, but remarkably similar nonetheless. In this episode, we investigate some of the far corners of the neuroscience behind communication! We start with a simple question: how does the human brain coordinate all of the muscles that allow us to speak? In part 2, we learn how male songbirds perfect their mating calls and how all the single birds respond. And finally, a neuroscientist/professional opera-singer tells us about the mystery of musicality, and the science behind becoming a great musician.

Part One: “On the Tip of My Tongue”
The human brain precisely controls numerous muscles when we speak, but scientists know very little about how exactly this happens... Our producers Ryan Jones and Kate Woronowicz talk with David Conant, a doctoral student in Dr. Edward Chang’s lab at the University of California - San Francisco, about how patients with epilepsy are helping us unravel this great mystery.

Part Two: “A Bird Song to Remember”
Spring is in the air and with it, a cacophony of bird songs. But these birds aren’t born knowing how to sing. It’s only after the brain goes through complex chemical dances that these males can attract their perfect mates. Listen to Peter Chisnell talk with Dr. Gregory Ball, neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, about how hormones refine male bird songs and in turn, how these songs change birds’ brains.

Part Three: “The Sound of Music(ality)”
Practice makes perfect, but is that all it takes to become a great musician? Lynn Wang talks to Dr. Indre Viskontas, neuroscientist and professional musician, about her research studying how musicality works. At the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Indre teaches “Training the Musical Brain,” a class where students learn how to practice basic music perceptual skills. In addition, she’s interested in understanding how elements such as emotion and expression make us better musicians.

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