A Moment of Science

Word Up, Brain

Learn about the motor cortex and its functions on this Moment of Science.

Here’s an interesting experiment you can try at home.

Go ahead and tap your foot. What just happened? Well, you were able to move your foot thanks to the motor cortex–a strip of tissue running from ear to ear across the surface of the brain that is responsible for controlling voluntary movement. The instant you decided to move your foot, the part of your brain’s motor cortex responsible for sending commands to the foot went into action.

Now, if you’re somewhere where you have access to a paper and pen or pencil, write down the word “kick”, and then read it to yourself. Guess what? Your brain just lit up as though you were actually about to make a kicking motion.

According to a recent study, it turns out that merely reading words that describe actions, like “kick,” “jump,” or “run” makes your motor cortex kick up its feet, so to speak. When you read action verbs, blood rushes to the corresponding part of your motor cortex and neurons start firing as though you were actually doing that action.

Ok, so the motor cortex is really cool. But so what?

Well, besides the motor cortex,  other parts of the brain involved with learning new actions and understanding language also get revved up when we read action verbs. This means that understanding language seems to involve different areas of the brain pitching in to help us learn words together with the actions they describe. With more research, scientists may be able to use this knowledge to help treat language disorders and related problems.

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