Research that tunes into emotions

Globalink intern at McGill University conducting study to see how humans perceive and respond to 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 thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink research internship program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Saskatchewan, and Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support the Globalink program: 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; and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.

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