Sofia Russo

Ritratto Sofia russo

Neuroscience, Technology, and Society, XXXV series
Grant sponsor

Dip. di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione, UNIPD

Barbara Arfè

Antonio Rodà

Project description
Several findings indicate the sensitivity to rhythm as an inherent feature of perceptual systems (Patel, 2006). Since birth, newborns can indeed perceive the rhythm of language (Nazzi et al., 1998) as well as non-speech auditory (Winkler et al., 2009) and visual patterns (Lewkowicz & Marcovitch, 2006). Moreover, music and language are well known to share several commonalities (Patel, 2010) as well as the neural (Kowlsch, 2011) and learning mechanisms underlying their early acquisition (McMullen and Saffran, 2004). The aim of this project is therefore to investigate how the sensitivity to rhythm in early infancy is related to better language outcomes emerging later in development, in typical and at-risk populations. In particular, I will test both normal-hearing and deaf infants, by means of vibrotactile devices for music perception (Karam et al., 2009; Tranchant et al., 2017). The choice to use the sense of touch as an alternative to sound is based on a growing body of research suggesting that the human sensorimotor system is capable of detecting information about music and rhythm through the body (Giordano, 2016; Gunther et al., 2002). In particular, with modern vibrotactile devices (involving the whole body through voice-coil channels embedded in suits, chairs or platform), deaf individuals can benefit from music experience. In a series of studies, adult deaf participants have indeed been found to use their hands to “dance” to classical songs translated into vibro-tracks (Karam et al., 2009), showing synchronization abilities comparable to those of normal hearing subjects (Tranchant et al., 2017). If an early sensitivity to rhythm is preserved in deaf infants, then rhythm could represent a useful organizing parameter for the encoding of speech, bootstrapping successive phases of language acquisition in both typical and at-risk development. Despite these promising results, almost nothing has been done with young infants. The motivation behind this project is therefore to fill this gap, investigating the effect of early auditory deprivation on the emerging language skills, with the further possibility to build early training programs for deaf infants based on rhythm, music and multi-sensorial experience.