OUR Featured Researcher: Langa Sibanda ’23
Langa Sibanda (she/her) is majoring in musical studies. She is conducting mentored research under Professor Leslie Kwakye. Her project is titled “Investigating neural mechanisms for attentional alterations to multisensory speech perception".
Please describe your project:
Our brains have the ability to combine different types of sensory information and to process it to develop an integrated response, a phenomenon we call multisensory integration. The McGurk task consists of audio and visual stimuli that test our brains’ susceptibility to multisensory integration illusions. In the illusion, an audio stimulus of a specific syllable is dubbed over a video of a person saying another syllable. What the participants often report the syllable, however, is a syllable different from both the audio and visual syllables (Visual “ga” + audio “ba” = reported “da”). We focus on how directing attention alters susceptibility to the McGurk illusion, and what neural correlates are implicated within attention distractors’ effect on integration. What brain activity might we expect when attention is directed away from the McGurk illusion?
A brief summary (the elevator speech) of your research project:
Our research project focuses on what neural activity will be observed when participants are asked to direct attention away from multisensory stimuli and how it differentiates from neural activity when attention is devoted to the illusion.
Why is your research important?
Our research is crucial because it will provide a better understanding of the neural mechanisms at play when attention is deterred from multisensory integration stimuli, which can give rise to an improved comprehension of information processing.
What does the process of doing your research look like?
This year, we will be engaging in running the McGurk illusion and collecting data from participants. In previous years, I became familiar with data analysis processes within the lab, so I’m intrigued to focus on an entirely new aspect! I am working most of my time with my excellent lab groupmates Arohi Dandawate, Ankit Barana, and Luke Stenberg. We are taking and amending the task to ensure that it works correctly and is in perfect shape for participants. We will soon begin EEG training, which I could not be more excited for.
How did you get involved in research? What drove you to want to seek out research experiences in college?
Through Sophomore Opportunities and Research (SOAR), I was placed in Professor Leslie Kwakye’s sensory lab. I emphasized that I was equally interested in STEM and music and was matched with her research lab. Reflecting on it now, I could not have asked for a better outcome!
What is your favorite aspect of the research process?
One of my favorite aspects of the research project is being part of a team. My research group has an important place in my heart, and with every new week, my admiration for my group members’ drive and intellect grows. Their illuminating energy and passion for our project make lab time and our work so much fun and rewarding.
How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?
Working with Professor Kwakye has been a wonderful experience. Through participating and learning in her lab, I became first interested in Neuroscience. Her evident love for the field and our research was infectious and had an immeasurable influence on my desire to learn more about Neuroscience. I have so much gratitude for her for many reasons, including the ways she has pushed me to grow and excel as a student.
How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?
This research has demonstrated what a future linking music and science could look like for me. Whenever someone expresses confusion about my equal love for both fields, I immediately bring up our research as a terrific way to bring them together academically. It has opened my eye to research interests, such as Music cognition, that I hope to play an integral part in my research in the future.
What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?
Lab Crawl is a fantastic way to learn about all the research on Oberlin’s campus! I would suggest attending all the different labs, introducing yourself to the students and the research mentor, and asking questions! It may spark a research interest in you that you were not expecting!