This project implements a 2-week training gait involving imitation of emotional movements presented via songs and sentences, conducted with Dr. Frank Russo at Ryerson University. Preliminary results suggest that after 2 weeks of training in high-functioning autism, social responsiveness has improved in the experimental group, as well as accuracy identifying emotion in song. We are also measuring changes in mirror neuron system responsiveness via EEG, as well as facial expression responsiveness using EMG while observing emotional faces. We have also received a grant to create an iPad version of the therapy, implemented as an acting game, which is currently under development.
Memory for music persists long after other memory systems have failed. What is so special about memory for songs? The current project examines the brain mechanisms related to familiar music using a cutting-edge fMRI paradigm involving inter-subject correlation. This will allow me to explore the ways in which people’s brains activate together in time across a familiar musical piece. In addition, we are examining differences in brain activation for familiar songs involving only lyrics, only instruments, or a combination. Future work will examine whether similar or different brain mechanisms are activated during familiar music listening in Alzheimer’s disease.
This line of studies investigates the features of songs that might make them more memorable (eg., likability, repeated exposure, sing-ability, dance-ability) that make us remember the lyrics and other attributes of songs. It is known that humans can remember all the words to a corpus of songs, including a high proportion of songs from adolescence. I have found that likability, repeated listening, and whether the person tended to sing along with the music are key factors in whether they still remember the words to that song, years later. I am also investigating individual differences in memory for song, and have found that people who tend to sing and along to songs more often report having a tendency for high lyric memory. We have also manipulated singing to sung sentences and found that more sentences are recalled when sung aloud than when heard only. It appears that the brain’s motor system plays an important role in memory for music, and that we are more likely to remember high-motorically-stimulating songs, especially if we like to sing or dance along.
Music-based rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) for Parkinson’s disease typically involves synchronizing footsteps to a metronome or musical beat. This line of studies, conducted with Dr. Jessica Grahn in the Music & Neuroscience lab at the Brain and Mind Institute, examines the ideal music parameters and instructions for optimal RAS. This research shows that music high in groove facilitates optimal walking in healthy individuals and patients. In addition, our recent results suggest that while high beat perceivers should synchronize walking to the beat, low beat perceivers may improve most when walking freely without the need to synchronize.
For this project I designed a 13-week facial expression therapy for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, working with Frank Russo and Steven Livingstone at Ryerson University. We measured facial EMG changes and changes in understanding of emotional faces following therapy. We found that diminished EMG during observation of emotional faces was significantly improved following therapy.