The brain dictionary


This is a map of someone’s brain, showing roughly which areas respond when they hear different words. For example, there’s a small area in the middle frontal gyrus that reliably responds to hearing the word ‘top’. But it’s not just one word, one location. A single word can activate a whole range of different brain regions. So, we find the word ‘top’ in a bit of brain that seems to respond to words associated with clothing and appearances. But also, here, with numbers and measurements. And here, with buildings and places. We usually think of language as being restricted to certain sections like the temporal lobe. So researchers were surprised to find activity all across the brain, and in both hemispheres. The map was made by scientists at the University of California, Berkely. They put volunteers in an MRI scanner and had them listen to stories for 2 hours. …She digs back in the front again – deep, deep – and she pulls out a pack of matches
that had been laundered at least once… By monitoring blood flow to different parts of the brain they worked out which places were responding to the meaning of the words: the semantics. They found that different bits of the brain responded to different kinds of words and concepts. And they could group them into rough
categories, shown here by the different colours. Dark green bits, for example, were most activated by words to do with numbers, red bits by social words. Here, in the right temporoparietal junction, this speck of brain, just a few millimetres across, was found to respond to words like
‘wife’, ‘mother’, ‘pregnant’ and ‘family’. And this bit just next door responds to some of the same social words, like ‘family’ and ‘wife’, but also words to do with places and people like ‘house’ and ‘owner’. Generally, the concepts represented in each brain region relate to other functions that scientists already know about; so, words to do with how things look, such as ‘stripes’, are likely to be found near the visual cortex. And although each individual’s map is different, looking at these three brains, it’s clear that different people have the same kinds of concepts in the same kinds of places. This is the first time we’ve been able to
map the semantic systems of the brain in such detail – discovering that words are grouped by meaning, and revealing just how complicated, and widespread, the word maps in our heads really are. And, the brain map is available online for anyone to explore.


67 Responses

  1. Hector Roldan

    April 27, 2016 5:43 pm

    This running in real time and abilities expanded could help with psychological or couples therapy when addressing associations and triggers. Expanded abilities could include mapping emotional responses as well so the depth of data can further explore whatever might be the issue with more clarity. I had been playing with the concept of software and hardware engineering to such ends but might just toss that project back into oblivion since it seems that's where science might be taking us anyways^^

  2. The deathless face of the unborn mind.

    April 27, 2016 6:22 pm

    I still can't get over the fact that the decision to write this comment has physical origins in one of those things.

  3. munderlarkst

    April 27, 2016 7:43 pm

    Does this imply that there is not a language "part" of the brain, but rather, that language uses "all" parts of the brain (perhaps similarly to the way playing a musical instrument uses all parts/regions of the brain simultaneously)?

  4. Francisco Webber

    April 27, 2016 9:47 pm

    A highly correlating theory about why we humans build this word map in our brains, how we build it during language acquisition in infancy and how we use it to understand and generate language, can be found in the white paper "Semantic Folding Theory" (

  5. David McDowell

    April 27, 2016 11:22 pm

    When I hear the horrible accent of the woman narrating this video the word that lights up in my brain is "Euughh!"

  6. HumanoidOrganism

    April 27, 2016 11:39 pm

    Isn't modern technology incredible? With functional MRI scanning we can get so much more information about the way the brain works. Often computers are more trouble than they are worth, but when it comes to the internet and image processing it has caused incredible changes in how we communicate and understand this world. Credit to the people who invented the technology and did the study.

  7. Rishika Jain

    April 28, 2016 10:09 am

    I agree with you. This post is truly inspiring. I like your post and everything you share with us is current and very informative, I want to bookmark the page so I can return here from you that you have done a fantastic job.

  8. ExplosiveFilms2007

    April 28, 2016 11:24 am

    That's an absolutely insane amount of work! So inspiring! And what could be more fascinating than how meaning is represented in the brain? So cool!

  9. LifeAsANoun

    April 28, 2016 12:47 pm

    This can serve to refine research done on why people respond more neutrally to a person called "African-American" vs. negatively to the same person who is labled "Black"…

  10. Henry Cordy-McKenna

    April 28, 2016 10:44 pm

    Have they looked at an autistic brain yet? Would be very interesting to see how their words are grouped.

  11. Curious Content

    April 29, 2016 5:32 pm

    i find it very interesting how the words wife,family, mother and pregnant all correlate in the same region. the semantics are different but the concept is the same. the brain couples concepts to derive memory and feeling it would seem.

  12. JT4GM4K3R

    April 30, 2016 8:28 pm

    I'd certainly be interesting to experiment with simple Lissajous figures to compare the geometry presumably synthesized by the brain.

  13. flarn2006

    May 1, 2016 3:29 am

    Who should I contact/how much would it cost to get one of these made for my own brain?

  14. Terry Licia

    May 1, 2016 5:54 am

    Ooooo … I want to ask the researchers: have they attempted this across cultures yet? I wonder about the degrees of difference in the human brain about all sorts of things, and also of the similarities. FASCINATING! I want to do it … please, map me, docs! 😀

  15. Clem Humsinger

    May 2, 2016 3:09 pm

    Excellant presentation. Let's hope these researchers soon publish something on storing vision information. This might lead to effective therapies for brain damages experienced after hip operations. Thanks to Terry Licia for the link to the online version. Hope to explore this ASAP.

  16. Buzz Hill

    May 2, 2016 8:21 pm

    Recovering aphasic am I – having trouble with pronoun antecedents in speaking. What to know more!

  17. Y Qisq

    May 3, 2016 6:25 pm

    Words is only an explicit way to represent thoughts. I believe brain has its implicit representation of thoughts and abstract concepts without requiring to express them in words. So while processing of language is localised in certain area of brain, the thoughts those words represent is distributed.

  18. Video Trash

    May 22, 2016 8:30 pm

    The concept of "locating" a word in the brain seems very naive – it would be more reasonable to assume that these correlations of brain activity with certain terms don't necessarily reflect distributed language processing, but just general thoughts and representations evoked by the words. If you do not believe that humans "think in language" all the time, the presentation of these results in the video seems a bit overblown and insincere regarding their supposed importance.

  19. sami ajre

    May 25, 2016 12:26 pm

    try those experiences on leaders who claim they are always optimistic
    let's see if they have less "worry areas " in their brain than normal people lol

  20. Dulcinia Nunez

    May 25, 2016 6:44 pm

    And what about the bilingual brain. This extraordinary. I have so many questions. Beautiful film.

  21. pyritztube

    July 28, 2016 1:36 pm

    For educational purposes, is there a way to get such a 3d model of the brain available for video production tools (format for 3dsmax, blender, etc.) ??

  22. seth chizmar

    August 24, 2016 12:49 am

    I hate that people keep talking about different languages or the different people convey SEMANTICS.
    This is about the mapping of the SEMANTICS PERCEIVED! Not the symbols being CONVEYED.

  23. Ashok Ranchhod

    October 10, 2016 9:22 am

    Excellent experiment and results. Of course different languages mean that more of the brain is fired up??

  24. DistortedFaiths

    January 31, 2017 3:26 am

    Truly fascinating. Proves that cognition is not localized to one area and how multifaceted the brain is in understanding language.

  25. VperVendetta1992

    March 20, 2017 12:07 am

    this means that we can map each thought word by a human to a string of digits that represent the locations of the brain that are activated by that word.
    Then we can send these strings via bluetooth to another computer wich would decode them into words and read them to another human, who would in turn respond with another phrase which will be sent to the first human and so on.
    Thus achieving universal telepathic communication.

  26. Chelsea Vanderpool

    June 27, 2017 9:33 pm

    Love this! Thank you! For so long I've lived as if I'm always wrong rather than learning it's good that we all respond differently and help each other grow. 🙂

  27. Jack Manuel Desinor Hernández

    July 3, 2017 9:31 pm

    Wonderful discovery! This reaffirms the importance of reading and learning new concepts!!

  28. Dang Ohohoh

    February 18, 2018 6:37 am

    this would mean that different parts of the brain are in charge of determining meaning… hooooly shit…. we know that some people have common interests but this puts things into a new perspective for me. this means that brains can be very similar to one another, more than just looks, you could find someone who thinks the

  29. samy hassan

    May 9, 2018 5:12 am

    نظرا للعب أمن إتصالات مصر بالبورد الكتابه عربي.يقال مخ وبران ومينت ومايند وهيروغليف تي و دوز فالسوأل هل دماغ فارسي يعني مخ؟إذا كتب ران أي هال ومطر راي وشار يبوء براي …ب شار فأي شئ يبشره يا لغات قلم رصاص؟

  30. Christian Gingras

    May 31, 2018 2:58 am

    Interesting description of the fundamental way the brain works. Each area process concepts. When listening to a story, the brain area get activated as the words with appropriate context are identified.

  31. Christian Gingras

    May 31, 2018 8:28 am

    The language remain located in the 2 known places; Broca for understanding spoken language, the other closer to visual area to read words. Everywhere else, it is just labels that we add to explain the concept manipulated by each brain area.
    For example, the two locations with the label "family" are areas that become active when thinking about any family. But the English word 'family" is still recognized in the Broca area. Once Broca identify the word "family", then it trigger one or more brain areas which know the concept.

  32. Gustavo Borges

    November 13, 2018 12:57 pm

    It's just incredible how the brain keep a new word and organize it to specific areas in the brain, I'd never imagine that, everytime I learn bout my own brain I'm sure that chemical is the best thing of this fucking universe

  33. hawaiisunfun

    July 31, 2019 7:28 am

    I could kind of understand depression with this video, as when following one word after another, they align in groupings. One side of a word will have the opposite of it on the other side. It's kind of like having conscience on each side. A check and balance of good and bad.

  34. Rajoo Ananth

    August 7, 2019 1:22 pm

    blown away – when we forget does the real estate in brain become available for new words ?

  35. Rajoo Ananth

    August 7, 2019 1:23 pm

    we know how deaf and blind usurp other brain estate for processing and storage to compensate


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