Speech spells create "Oh shit" wave in the brain

Brain responds to slip as well as to behavioral spans

George W. Bush: Famous for his Language Speaks © US Navy
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George W. Bush is famous for his language breakdowns - but what sets them off? What is happening in the brain, Dutch researchers have now elucidated. They found that the brain generates a specific signal, the "Oh shit" wave, and tries to prevent the errors at the last second.

Our brain is usually good at avoiding speech mistakes. But sometimes, in some people more often than in others, one or the other lapse happens. For example, former US President George W. Bush is famous for his verbal defaults: in a speech he referred to weapons of mass destruction and said instead of "weapons of mass destruction" "weapons of mass production", which made for great amusement. Former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had a similar problem, seeking to resolve industrial disputes through "meditation" rather than "mediation."

Spoon with "P"

But how do you make such mistakes? And what happens in the brain, both when it happens, and so that it does not happen? This is exactly what Niels Schiller and Lesya Ganushchak from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands have now investigated with the help of an experiment. To do so, they showed volunteers pictures of objects and asked them to indicate whether or not a particular letter prefixed to them by loudspeaker appears in the name of the object.

Under normal conditions, this task poses no problems for us, but under stress, when there is time pressure, things look different. Then the subjects made more mistakes and accidentally stated that the "spoon" was a "P" or not " F ".

"Oh shit" wave

In order to find out what happens in the brain, the researchers measured the brain activity of the subjects during these experiments. It turned out that every time the subjects made a mistake, the brain produced a very specific electrophysiological signal. This is casually also known as the "oh shit" wave and has previously been known as a typical signal that is produced when people make mistakes, for example, by accidentally pressing a wrong button or opening a wrong door. display

Brain responds to language breakdowns as well as behavioral errors

The exciting thing about this observation is, on the one hand, that the brain does not seem to respond to linguistic mishaps any differently than to other mistakes associated with behavior or movement. The brain registers such errors so quickly and creates an "Oh-Shit" wave, that in some cases the lapsus can be evened out in the last second. For example, this mechanism prevents us from descending a flight of stairs by initiating balancing steps or helping us talk our way out of a linguistic spell at the last minute.

The new findings not only provide a better understanding of speech processing in the brain, they could also help to improve treatment methods for people with speech problems.

(NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research), 05.11.2008 - NPO)