Office of Undergraduate Research

Claire Nave '21

OUR Featured Researcher: Claire Nave '21

Portrait of Claire Nave.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Claire Nave (she/her) is a Neuroscience major conducting mentored research under Professor Leslie Kwakye. Her project is titled “Changes in Sensory Noise Explain Attentional Disruptions to Multisensory Perception". 

Please describe your project: 

When we process sensory information, such as sights and sounds, our brains first process them on their own and then combine them into a cohesive perception of the world. This process of combining information from different senses is called multisensory integration. Previous research has found that being distracted from stimuli can decrease the likelihood of integrating them, but this mechanism is not well understood. The goal of this project was to study whether sensory noise, or random variation in neural firing while stimuli are processed, might be part of this mechanism. Additionally, previous research has found differences in the responses to auditory and visual distractor tasks, so this project studied whether there are differences between the impacts of auditory and visual sensory noise on integration. Overall, we found that change in visual noise was one factor that predicted change in integration over different attentional loads.

Why is your research important?

Some developmental disorders, like ASD and ADHD, involve sensory dysregulation. This research builds our knowledge of sensory processing, which could improve understanding and treatments of these disorders in the future.

What does the process of doing your research look like?   

This project uses data that was collected behaviorally from human subjects taking a psychophysics task. I’m working with another undergraduate student in the lab, and together we’ve reviewed previous literature, used R and SPSS for data analysis and model building, and are writing a paper for publication.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

Our findings so far are that the change in the likelihood of integration between different attentional loads is predicted by baseline likelihood of integration and by change in visual sensory noise. The finding that the change in visual sensory noise is a significant predictor suggests that sensory noise may be a mechanism by which attention affects integration, and that this mechanism might differ between modalities.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

We are currently finalizing this project by drafting a manuscript to be submitted for publication in May.

How did you get involved in research? 

I wanted to participate in research here at Oberlin because I was interested in continuing on with research as a career. Oberlin is a fully undergraduate institution, meaning it is great for research experiences because undergraduates can participate in parts of research that might be the domain of graduate students at other institutions.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

My favorite part of the research process is data analysis and visualization. For this project specifically we did several iterations of testing and analysis, and it was interesting to me to see what the objectives were at each stage and how each stage impacted the final result. I’ve also really enjoyed expanding my knowledge of multisensory integration and sensory noise through reading literature for this project.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

Dr. Kwakye has been a valuable source of knowledge for this project, including both knowledge about the field and about best practices for conducting a study and analyzing data. She has provided feedback throughout the paper-writing process, as well as guidance on how manuscripts go from submission to publication.

How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

Through working with Dr. Kwakye I’ve learned a lot about the field of multisensory integration, benefits and drawbacks of different ways to study it, and some behind-the-scenes considerations that go into planning a research project. I also have a much better sense of how to critique a paper and how to put it into the wider context of the field.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?  

My research experience has given me valuable skills that I can take with me regardless of whether I continue to pursue research – reading and digesting literature, understanding how to build up my own knowledge base, programming, good study design, etc. Elements of research can be found in a variety of careers, and having this experience has helped me identify career paths that interest me and prepare for going down those paths.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

I would suggest to pay attention to what interests you in class and seek out professors who conduct research in those areas. College is a great time to explore new fields and new interests! Also, consistently document what you’re doing during your research – it will help if you need to go back and remember when you did something or why you made a certain decision.