How real-time MRIs of beatboxers may help stroke patients

Video of people beatboxing inside an MRI machine was part of a University of Southern California study on speech mechanisms. Because beatboxing has many vocal dynamics working at once, researchers examined five beatboxers to dissect the physiology involved.

"We've been trying to understand how is it that people do this thing that we call speech and used to communicate our thoughts, our emotions and so on," Dr. Shrikanth Narayanan, the lead researcher, said via Skype.

Beatboxer Nimisha Patil was one of the MRI volunteers as well as a co-author of the study.

"There are so many things we take for granted, so many sounds that we're able to produce but being able to understand the mechanism behind that is, I think, the really powerful part of this study," Patil said.

The project also gave insight on beatbox sounds and their relationship with languages of the world. 

"The fact that beatboxing has so many new sounds that we've never seen before, that have no linguistic correspondent is really impressive," linguistics researcher Reed Blaylock said. "It begs the question, 'Well, how come language doesn't have any of those sounds?'"

While the study was done to learn more about how the human body produces sounds and speech, the findings could prove useful in areas like the treatment of Parkinson's disease or stroke victims.

"What we can be taught to pick up skills, so will teach us how to regain function in therapy?" Narayanan said. So that's our long-term goal."