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Posts Tagged ‘neuroscientist’

Some readers of Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog (Asakiyume, for example) share my interest in obscure, threatened languages. Here is an ancient one that was new to me: Whistling Turkish.

Jay Walz reported in a 1964 NY Times article, “The whistler forms his ‘speech’ with tongue curled around his teeth so that the ‘words’ are forced through lips that are not puckered in the conventional whistling style; they are tensely drawn flat across the face. The palm of the left hand is cupped about the mouth, and high pressure is applied from the lungs.”

Sindya N. Bhanoo added to the science in the September 3, 2015, NY Times, “Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that ‘speakers’ rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side.”

In the New Yorker, Michelle Nijhuis describes a town that is unfortunately losing its whistling, “Kuşköy is remarkable not for how it looks but for how it sounds: here, the roar of the water and the daily calls to prayer are often accompanied by loud, lilting whistles — the distinctive tones of the local language. Over the past half-century, linguists and reporters curious about what locals call kuş dili, or ‘bird language,’ have occasionally struggled up the footpaths and dirt roads that lead to Kuşköy. So its thousand or so residents were not all that surprised when, a few years ago, a Turkish-born German biopsychologist named Onur Güntürkün showed up and asked them to participate in a study. …

“In 1964, a stringer for the Times reported that children in Kuşköy were learning to communicate by whistling before they started school, and that both men and women regularly gossiped, argued, and even courted via whistle. Three years later, a team of visiting linguists observed that whistling was widely used in both the village and the surrounding countryside. But Güntürkün found that few, if any, young women had learned the language, and that, although some young men were fluent whistlers, they had learned the skill as teen-agers, more out of pride than any practical need. … In a small town filled with nosy neighbors, texting affords a level of privacy that whistling never did.”

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As an icebreaker at lunch Monday, a colleague asked us all to go around the table and name a New Year’s resolution. I said I was going to emulate the phone-reading guy in the comic who tells his friend, “Yes, I just got a text, but I think there’s also a subtext.”

I meant that I want to go beneath the surface of things, to listen to what people are really saying. You know how you can sharpen your skills in that department? Read fiction.

That’s according to an Emory University study written up at MicGabe Bergado has the story. “It’s not news that reading has countless benefits: Poetry stimulates parts of the brain linked to memory and sparks self-reflection … But readers of fiction? They’re a special breed.

“The study: A 2013 Emory University study looked at the brains of fiction readers. [Neuroscientist Gregory Berns and coauthors] compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn’t read. The brains of the readers — they read Robert Harris’ Pompeii over a nine-day period at night — showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn’t read.

“Specifically, researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language. The researchers also found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself scoring a touchdown while playing football, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling. …

“Need more proof? Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano at the New School for Social Research focused on the effect of literary fiction, rather than popular fiction, on readers.  For the experiment, participants either read a piece of literary fiction or popular fiction, followed by identifying facial emotions solely through the eyes. Those who read literary fiction scored consistently higher, by about 10%.

” ‘We believe that one critical difference between lit and pop fiction is the extent to which the characters are complex, ambiguous, difficult to get to know, etc. (in other words, human) versus stereotyped, simple,’ Castano wrote to Mic.” More here.

Thank you, Claire, for sending this. You know what I like.

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Schools are not putting as much emphasis on handwriting as they used to, given the growing use of electronic devices, and that can be a good thing in some ways. (As a teacher, I was bored witless checking penmanship workbooks.)

But guess what. The Law of Unintended Consequences is rearing its head.

Maria Konnikova writes at the NY Times, “Psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how. …

“A 2012 study [published in Trends in Neuroscience and Education] led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again. …

“When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write … By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. ” More here.

Konnikova reports that even doubters of the study’s significance wonder if the act of writing by hand makes you think more.

Photo: Karin James
Samples of handwriting by young children.

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