Student Project Profile

Musical Experience, Autistic Traits, and Multisensory Encoding

Project Title

Interaction of Musical Experience and Autistic Traits on Multisensory Encoding

Faculty Mentor(s)

Project Description

Oscar and 2 lab mates.

Imagine a thunderstorm: when the delay between the flash of lighting and the thunder’s boom is short, the two appear as one event. But when the delay is long, they feel distinct. This phenomenon is due to multisensory temporal encoding. Perceiving external environments involves integrating the multi-faceted information they present into an aggregate experience; that process of synthesizing these mixed stimuli over time is known as multisensory temporal encoding.

Previous studies suggest that, in those with musical experience, multisensory temporal encoding is enhanced. On the other hand, individuals exhibiting autistic traits generally show enhanced unisensory encoding (e.g., telling apart two pitches, colors, etc.), but experience disrupted multisensory encoding due to this high sensitivity.

While previous studies have examined multisensory temporal encoding in musicians and autistic profiles separately, the relationship between the two has not been investigated. This project seeks to characterize that relationship: How do musical experience and autism interact in multisensory temporal encoding?

Why is your research important?

In addition to broadening public awareness and knowledge of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), this study’s findings may suggest musical training as a new therapeutic tool for those with autism and other atypical people who struggle with the multisensory integration and overstimulation in day-to-day experiences.

What does the process of doing your research look like?

This study uses EEG data that was collected in the lab by previous students. Now, our lab is using an EEG processing software to analyze this data and perform statistical comparisons between groups.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field?

We found that musical experience selectively enhances multisensory temporal encoding, in line with previous findings. Contrary to previous findings, we found no significant effect of autism on this type of encoding.

In what ways have you showcased your research thus far?

My lab partner Jaiden Curlin and I presented our project to the 2023 Oberlin Summer Research Institute mentors and fellows. I hope to write up a paper with my lab partner and mentor to publish our results once we see our study through.

How did you get involved in research? What drove you to seek out research experiences in college?

I had one prior experience conducting research in a lab before college. I wanted to continue research as an undergraduate student which was one of the biggest reasons I was attracted to Oberlin. I joined my mentor’s lab this summer after talking to two students who had been or currently are part of her lab and researching her previous publications online, as I found her work with neuroatypical populations intriguing.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?

What excites me most about the present project is that we’re investigating the unknown, so once we have fully analyzed our results, we’ll be the first to discover and (hopefully) publish new information.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project? How has it impacted you as a researcher?

Working with Professor Leslie Kwakye has been a new frontier for me, as she is the second mentor whose lab I’ve worked in at Oberlin. I feel that we work in similar ways, and her organization and planning out of long-term projects is something that I’ve struggled with, and so I have a lot to learn from her, not just in regards to her expertise in neuroscience, but in terms of time management as well.

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

I believe that I have found a mentor whose style of conducting research, as well as specialization in my field is a great fit for me. I plan to continue conducting research in her lab, starting with finishing the present project analysis in the fall. I’m eager to gain more research experience and organizational skills with her coming into my final year at Oberlin.

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

I would emphasize the importance of finding a mentor whose specialization as well as personal strengths a role model outside of academics will complement your own interests and strengths as a student. Think about who has the capacity to understand your goals, who has the capacity to help you the most on your career path and skillsets, and who you can communicate most effectively and easily with.