OUR Featured Researcher: Arohi Dandawate ’24
Arohi Dandawate (she/her/hers) is a Neuroscience major conducting mentored research under Professor Leslie Kwakye. Her project is titled “ Neural Mechanisms of Attentional Alteration to Multisensory Speech Perception: An Eye-Tracking, Psychophysical, and EEG Study".
Please describe your project:
Our research strives to answer the question of when exactly distraction from one sensory modality influences our processing of speech stimuli. The relationship between attention and multisensory speech perception (a form of multisensory integration, or MSI) has been long contested. Our multisensory speech stimuli include “ba,” “da,” “ga,” and “tha,” as well as the “McGurk task” which presents a visual syllable /ga/ paired with the auditory syllable /ba/ (McGurk and McDonald 1976). The McGurk task is actually an assessment of MSI: the incongruent syllable pairing is often perceived as “da” or “tha,” due to multisensory processing. By distracting the participants’ attention and simultaneously presenting the speech stimuli and more specifically the McGurk Task, we can assess the relationship between distraction and multisensory speech perception. Our lab utilizes psychophysics, relying on reported perceptions (whether the participants actually succumbed to the McGurk task) to assess MSI, eye-tracking to gauge participants’ visual spatial attention, and steady-state potentials to illuminate how attention towards each aspect of the stimulus changes due to distraction.
Summarize your research briefly (elevator speech)?
When you’re at a crowded party but you can somehow hear the person you’re having a conversation with perfectly clearly, how does your brain make up for all the noise in the background? Our lab uses psychophysics, eye-tracking, and steady-state electroencephalography to help answer the question of how unisensory audio and visual distractions influence multisensory speech perception.
What does the process of doing your research look like?
A lot of our work on this project so far has been dedicated to developing our tasks which rely on a lot of accurate timing and communication between our computers. I have learned a lot in running our tasks and examining the code for our programs and as we actually get ready to welcome participants to our lab! As we have prepared our task, I have had an extremely engaging experience learning from Professor Leslie Kwakye as well as my fellow lab members: Gabe Hosein, Andrea Orozco, Ankit Barana, and Sarah Mia Liberatore.
Why is your research important?
Our research is important because by studying the complicated relationship between attention and speech perception, we can get a little closer to understanding why each of us perceives the world as we do. Especially in the discussion of neurodivergence, our research helps us uncover how conditions that change attentional capacity can alter multisensory perception. Through approaching a less neurotypical standard, we can advocate for more accessible spaces and policies to accomodate for a variety of attentional capacities.
How did you get involved in research?
As I sat in my introductory science classes, I knew that my interests lay in how these small scale observations translate to bigger systems like perception. I knew that it would take me a while to get to the classes where we study these topics and so I approached Leslie during her OUR Office Hours, asking her which lab on campus could help me study perception, specifically music cognition. She graciously offered to include me in her lab’s virtual journal clubs at the time and from then on, I have been a part of the LK Lab!
What is your favorite aspect of the research process?
I have several aspects that I love about research that could be realized in other spaces, but what stands out in specifically lab research is the unique community of people with whom I can discuss ideas, formulate understandings, and work together. The LK lab has definitely become a safe space for me where I can connect with people who are asking similar questions to me and where we can discuss our interests together.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
It sounds silly to say but I think research has definitely put my professional goals in question. I walked into Leslie’s lab with only a genuine interest in understanding more about sensory neuroscience. However, through my exciting experiences I have started to think more critically about how I can bring what skills I have developed in lab (like literature reviews, programming, and presentations) towards my professional goals.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
Some advice I have that I got from Leslie when looking for research opportunities is to formulate your own research question, then search through the work on campus and see what labs look like the best fit! As I connect with accomplished researchers around campus, I have found that the research each student does tells a story about who they are: it is very human to want to devote so much of your time to something that really means something to you.
There are so many unexpected methods, departments, and people who can guide you to answering your research question and I would encourage everyone to search widely before narrowing in.
The most important part about each of our research is that it tells a story of who we are because we can only devote so much time to things that are so meaningful to us.