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Scientists find your brain spots grammar mistakes – even when you’re not aware

May 13th 2013, 9:45 PM 11,483 17

YOUR BRAIN IS working overtime – at least, when it comes to grammar.

Scientists have found that people’s brains detect and process grammatical errors, even when people have no awareness of doing so.

Neuroscientists as the University of Oregon in the US carried out a study of native-English speaking people to capture changes in brain electrical activity as people were presented with short sentences.

The subjects were given 280 sentences, some of which were grammatically correct and others which contained grammatical errors, while their brain activity was recorded.

The study found that even when the participants did not actively notice the errors, their brains still responded to them.

“Even when you don’t pick up on a syntactic error your brain is still picking it up,” said lead author Laura Batterink. “There is a brain mechanism recognising it and reacting to it, processing it unconsciously so you understand it properly.”

The authors said that this could change the way that adults are taught a second language.

One member of the research team, Helen J Neville, described how children often pick up grammar rules implicitly through their daily interactions with the people around them, processing new words before they’ve been given any formal rules on how to use them.

She used the example of Jabberwocky, the nonsensical poem by Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking Glass. For learning a second language she suggested:

Teach grammatical rules implicitly, without any semantics at all, like with Jabberwocky. Get them to listen to Jabberwocky, like a child does.

The study was published in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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Christine Bohan


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