Your Hippocampus May Help You Finish Someone Else’s Sentences Language and memory are linked through the brain’s hippocampus, helping a person finish fill-in-the-blank sentences or complete a best friend’s thought, suggests new research from psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley. Although the hippocampus enables humans to link related memories and make associations, language studies have largely ignored its ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   December 01, 2016
Your Hippocampus May Help You Finish Someone Else’s Sentences
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Professional Issues & Training / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   December 01, 2016
Your Hippocampus May Help You Finish Someone Else’s Sentences
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.21122016.16
The ASHA Leader, December 2016, Vol. 21, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.21122016.16
Language and memory are linked through the brain’s hippocampus, helping a person finish fill-in-the-blank sentences or complete a best friend’s thought, suggests new research from psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
Although the hippocampus enables humans to link related memories and make associations, language studies have largely ignored its functions, focusing instead on the cortex, according to study authors. Led by former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Vitória Piai, now a senior researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands, the scientists conducted a small-scale experiment that showed engagement in the hippocampus as participants heard predictable fill-in-the-blank sentences. Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers presented “constrained” sentences such as “He swept the floor with a ____,” pausing before showing the participants a picture of the obvious answer.

Piai inserted electrodes into the hippocampus of 12 people with epilepsy (only the non-epileptic hemisphere was recorded) who were part of intracranial electrode studies at the UC Irvine Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center. She then presented “constrained” sentences such as, “He swept the floor with a ___,” pausing before showing the participants a picture of the obvious answer. (A broom, in this instance.) They also heard open-ended sentences that did not have such predictable answers, such as “She came in here with the ___.”
Ten of the 12 participants showed activity in the hippocampus that was characteristic of the development of a memory association, but only when they heard the constrained sentences.
“When you record directly from the human hippocampal region, as the sentence becomes more constraining, the hippocampus becomes more active, basically predicting what is going to happen,” says Robert Knight, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. “This study shows that memory contributes as a sentence is evolving in time; it is a real-time part of our language system, not a slave to the language system.”
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December 2016
Volume 21, Issue 12