Human brain makes most boring stories come alive, report claims

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PEOPLE can listen to even the most boring storytellers, because their brain’s inner voice takes over the narrative, a new study has found.

It’s inner voice “talks over” even the dullest speaker to make the quotes in a story or speech more vivid, according to claims made by researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology.

During their study, the scientists took 18 volunteers and scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they listened to audio clips of short stories containing direct or indirect speech.

Read by an actress, the tiny tales, which were only a few sentences long, included direct speech quotations that were either spoken “vividly” or “monotonously”.

Listening to monotonous quotations increased brain activity, the fMRI scans showed, as the brain filled in vivid information that was missing.

Dr Bo Yao, the principal investigator of the study, said: “You may think the brain need not produce its own speech while listening to one that is already available. But, apparently, the brain is very picky on the speech it hears.

“When the brain hears monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations, which it expects to be more vivid, the brain simply ‘talks over’ the speech it hears with more vivid speech utterances of its own.

“By doing so, the brain attempts to optimise the processing of the incoming speech, ensuring more speedy and accurate responses.”

The same researchers had also found that the brain “talks” when silently reading direct quotations on a page.

Explaining this process, Professor Christoph Scheepers said: “Direct speech quotations are generally assumed to be more vivid and perceptually engaging than indirect speech quotations as they are more frequently associated with depictions of voices, facial expressions and co-speech gestures.

“When the brain does not receive actual stimulation of auditory speech during silent reading, it tends to produce its own to enliven written direct speech quotations – a phenomenon commonly referred to as the ‘inner voice’ during silent reading.

“Now it appears the brain does the same even when listening to monotonously-spoken direct speech quotations.”

The study, which is entitled Brain “Talks Over” Boring Quotes, was published in the NeuroImage journal this month.