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How the Brain Regulates Vocal Pitch

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Credit: University of California, San Francisco

Whether it’s hitting a high note, delivering a punch line, or reading a bedtime story, the pitch of our voices is a vital part of human communication. Now, as part of their ongoing quest to produce a dynamic picture of neural function in real time, researchers funded by the NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative have identified the part of the brain that controls vocal pitch [1].

This improved understanding of how the human brain regulates the pitch of sounds emanating from the voice box, or larynx, is more than cool neuroscience. It could aid in the development of new, more natural-sounding technologies to assist people who have speech disorders or who’ve had their larynxes removed due to injury or disease.


Creative Minds: A Baby’s Eye View of Language Development

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Click to start videoIf you are a fan of wildlife shows, you’ve probably seen those tiny video cameras rigged to animals in the wild that provide a sneak peek into their secret domains. But not all research cams are mounted on creatures with fur, feathers, or fins. One of NIH’s 2014 Early Independence Award winners has developed a baby-friendly, head-mounted camera system (shown above) that captures the world from an infant’s perspective and explores one of our most human, but still imperfectly understood, traits: language.

Elika Bergelson

Elika Bergelson
Credit: Zachary T. Kern

Elika Bergelson, a young researcher at the University of Rochester in New York, wants to know exactly how and when infants acquire the ability to understand spoken words. Using innovative camera gear and other investigative tools, she hopes to refine current thinking about the natural timeline for language acquisition. Bergelson also hopes her work will pay off in a firmer theoretical foundation to help clinicians assess children with poor verbal skills or with neurodevelopmental conditions that impair information processing, such as autism spectrum disorders.


The Science of Stuttering

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VP Biden: Portrait shoot by Andrew "Andy" Cutraro. 459 EEOB Studio

Credit: White House

Stuttering is a speech disorder that’s affected some very famous people, including King George VI, actress Marilyn Monroe, and, believe it or not, even Vice President Joe Biden.

About 5% of children stutter, but many like the Vice President outgrow the disorder.

About 1% of adults stutter. That’s about 3 million people in the United States and 60 million worldwide.

Until recently, the cause of most stuttering was a mystery. However, researchers at the NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders have identified several genes involved in inherited forms of stuttering and are busy looking for additional clues that may open new avenues for treatment. Find out more about what science is doing to help.