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Categorization, or the recognition that individual objects share similarities and can be grouped together, is fundamental to how we make sense of the world. Previous research has revealed how the brain categorizes images. Now, researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have discovered that the brain categorizes sounds in much the same way. A research group at Georgetown University had previously studied how the brain categorizes visual objects and found that at least two distinct regions of the brain were involved. One region, in the visual cortex, encoded images, while a region in the prefrontal cortex signaled their category membership. For their more recent research, the research team was interested in whether the same processes underlie categorization of auditory cues. To find out how the brain categorizes auditory input, the researchers invented new sounds using an acoustic blending tool to produce sounds from two types of monkey calls. The blending produced hundreds of new sounds that differed from the original calls. According to the NSF program director on the research, “The work has potential implications for understanding individual differences in language learning and can provide a foundation for understanding and treating people with learning disorders and other disabilities.”

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