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Research that tunes into emotions

At a glance
The intern

Karina Grunewald Zola from the University of Sydney, Australia

Hosted by

Dr. Alexandre Lehmann in the Department of Otolaryngology at McGill University

The research

Measuring how brains respond to various musical and vocal sounds

Karina Grunewald Zola has travelled from the land Down Under this summer to the city of Montreal for a research project that aims to determine how the brain processes musical and vocal sounds.

Working under the direction of Professor Alexandre Lehmann, the Australian psychology major is using electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brains of 20 volunteers to see how they react to different types of sounds. Karina demonstrates her research

“We have found that there is certain types of sounds that humans process faster than spoken word. For example, people tend to process the sound of a scream — in my study’s case, a screech from a violin — faster than they would process someone saying ‘I’m feeling scared,’” cites Karina. She is hoping to determine if a musical “burst” — like an instrument imitating a scream, laugh, or a cry — is processed by the brain first compared to recordings of happy- and sad-sounding melodies.

Karina’s research will provide insight into how humans process music compared to how they process speech, and whether primary emotions like fear, sadness, and happiness are treated preferentially by the brain. Pending her results, the study’s next stage will include deaf participants with cochlear implants to compare how they might process emotions in sound differently.

Following her internship, Karina plans to continue her studies into human brain functioning. She hopes to become a clinical psychologist, a field about which she’s passionate, after seeing friends and family members live with mental illness. 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; the China Scholarship Council; Campus France; the German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.