For the Full Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101209101515.htm
Like the mute button on the TV remote control, our brains filter out unwanted noise so we can focus on what we're listening to. But when it comes to following our own speech, a new brain study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows that instead of one homogenous mute button, we have a network of volume settings that can selectively silence and amplify the sounds we make and hear.
Neuroscientists from UC Berkeley, UCSF and Johns Hopkins University tracked the electrical signals emitted from the brains of hospitalized epilepsy patients. They discovered that neurons in one part of the patients' hearing mechanism were dimmed when they talked, while neurons in other parts lit up.
Their findings, published Dec. 8, 2010 in the Journal of Neuroscience, offer new clues about how we hear ourselves above the noise of our surroundings and monitor what we say. Previous studies have shown a selective auditory system in monkeys that can amplify their self-produced mating, food and danger alert calls, but until this latest study, it was not clear how the human auditory system is wired.
"We used to think that the human auditory system is mostly suppressed during speech, but we found closely knit patches of cortex with very different sensitivities to our own speech that paint a more complicated picture," said Adeen Flinker, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.
"We found evidence of millions of neurons firing together every time you hear a sound right next to millions of neurons ignoring external sounds but firing together every time you speak," Flinker added. "Such a mosaic of responses could play an important role in how we are able to distinguish our own speech from that of others."
While the study doesn't specifically address why humans need to track their own speech so closely, Flinker theorizes that, among other things, tracking our own speech is important for language development, monitoring what we say and adjusting to various noise environments.
"Whether it's learning a new language or talking to friends in a noisy bar, we need to hear what we say and change our speech dynamically according to our needs and environment," Flinker said.
He noted that people with schizophrenia have trouble distinguishing their own internal voices from the voices of others, suggesting that they may lack this selective auditory mechanism. The findings may be helpful in better understanding some aspects of auditory hallucinations, he said.