Ph.D. in Psychology, McGill University
Dr. Penhune received her BA degree in Philosophy from Wellesley College in 1981. Upon realizing that the brain could be more fruitfully studied from the laboratory than from an armchair, she completed a PhD in Psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University under the supervision of Dr. Michael Petrides. Her doctoral research examined the neural basis of auditory rhythm perception and production. She then pursued a post-doctoral fellowship at Laval University with Dr. Julien Doyon focused on the neural basis of motor skill learning. Dr. Penhune joined the Department of Psychology at Concordia University in 2000, and is also an adjunct member of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University. During her career at Concordia Dr. Penhune’s research has been funded by grants from CIHR, NSERC and FRSQ. In addition, she held the FRSQ Chercheur Boursier Junior I and II career awards from 2004-2009. She is a founding member of the International Laboratory for Brain Music and Sound (BRAMS), as well as a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development (CRDH) and the Centre for Research in Behavioral Neurobiology (CSBN).
It's a well-known fact that children are hard-wired to learn language at a very young age. The earlier they are exposed to a new language, the more likely they are to become proficient. Whether this applies to musical learning in children is something of great interest to music educators, researchers, and parents alike. (A Google search of the question, "When should my child begin music lessons?" yields about 650 million results!)
Indeed, there is evidence for a 'sensitive period' for musical learning: musicians who began their training earlier show better performance on musical tasks and enhancements in brain structures compared to musicians who started later in life. Naturally, other factors besides age-of-start can affect a child's musical progress.
My research in Dr. Penhune's lab focuses on the impact of psychological and social factors, in addition to the influence of age-of-start, on children's musical learning and development. I am supported by Concordia University and the Centre for Research in Human Development (CRDH), a multidisciplinary, multi-university research group focused on the study of psychological processes across the lifespan.
And that's not all! As a first-year student in Concordia's Clinical Psychology program, I am training for a career as a practitioner of psychology. Within this program I will have opportunities to work in a variety of applied settings -- such as hospitals, clinics, and Concordia's own Applied Psychology Centre -- and with a wide range of clients, from children to older adults.
After completing a BSc in Psychology with a minor in Biology at Concordia University, I worked for almost two years in Pierre Jolicoeur's lab at Université de Montreal. Whilst there, I worked on a project looking at contralateral EEG signals associated with the direction of small finger movements. I am currently developing projects that will look at the structural and functional basis of rhythm production. In particular I am interested in the basal ganglia's role in predicting and moving to a rhythm, and how the auditory and motor processes involved in rhythm production are integrated.
I completed my BSc in Physics, and then obtained my Master's degree in Cognitive Neuroscience at Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan, Italy. My MA research was focused on examining changes in brain structure in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). I am currently in my second year of Ph.D. in Psychology. My research project will use both behavioral and structural brain imaging measures to study the differences between dancers and musicians and find the neural correlates of cognitive and motor skill enhancement. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Dr. Krista Hyde at the Montreal Children's Hospital and McGill University.
M.Sc. Candidate, McGill University
Following completion of my undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at McGill University this spring (2011), I decided to pursue a Master's degree in Neuroscience at McGill, where I will work jointly with Dr. Robert Zatorre and Dr. Penhune. For my undergraduate thesis, I focused on how the brain processes language – specifically, the role that the cerebellum plays in primary auditory processing. For my master's project, I intend to focus on how the brain changes as an individual learns to play a string instrument. In order to do this, I will use an MRI compatible cello developed by Avrum Hollinger in the laboratory of Dr. Marcelo Wanderly in the Faculty of Music at McGill.
Imagine watching a live musical performance. You may find yourself tapping your foot along with the beat while the musicians on stage are synchronizing with each other after hours of rehearsal and years of training. How is the brain able to synchronize movement with a sequence of external stimuli? For my doctoral thesis, I am using motion capture technology to investigate the relationship between timing and movement, focusing on expert populations such as musicians.
Aside from this primary area of research, I am also involved in the Longitudinal Retirement Project undertaken by Concordia's Centre for Research in Human Development, examining factors that may affect cognitive decline post-retirement. As part of my clinical training, I am currently working at the Douglas Hospital in the P.E.P.P. clinic for first-episode psychosis, doing neuropsychological assessment and cognitive behavioural therapy.
I am co-supervised by Karen Li, PhD., director of the Adult Development Lab and Virginia Penhune, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Motor Learning and Neural Plasticity.
Ph.D. Candidate, Music Technology, Schulich School of Music, McGill University
Avrum is an electrical engineer pursuing his combined interests in music and electronics. His main research endeavour is the design of MRI-compatible musical interfaces that are ferromagnetic-free and make use of fibre optic sensors. He is concentrating on controllers that emulate the feel and sound of acoustic instruments, for use within the brain scanner during musical neuroimaging studies, while also exploring new instruments, interfaces, and sounds.
My research interests involve investigating the idea of a sensitive period during development for sensorimotor abilities in musicians. My research typically involves comparing adult musicians who began training before the age of 7 and those who began later during childhood on a battery of tasks (rhythm synchronization, melody discrimination, bimanual coordination, visuomotor synchronization and different cognitive variables). In addition, a non-musician group has been added for comparison. Group differences and the relationship between task performance and brain structure is a large focus of my Ph.D. thesis work.
I obtained my B.A. in Psychology at Concordia University. Under the supervision of Dr. Virginia Penhune, I completed an honours thesis project investigating the effects of repetition and interference on motor skill learning. My research interests involve understanding the nature of multi-tasking. In particular, I am interested to investigate age differences at people’s ability to perform two things at the same time. The goal of my current study is to examine age differences between younger and older adults in a simultaneous performance of cognitive and fine motor tasks. In this study I use a 3-D motion capture system in order to measure fine motor performance and kinematic changes that are involved in acquisition of new motor skills.
Before moving to Canada in 2007, I attended high school in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) where I focused on computer science, art and design, English literature, biology and business studies. Although my original plan was to pursue an undergraduate degree in graphic design, I decided to change course and explore a new interest in psychology/neuroscience. In June 2011, I graduated from Concordia University with a B.A. Honours degree in Psychology. I completed my thesis, entitled 'Motor Learning: Performance and Kinematics', under the supervision of Dr. Virginia Penhune and Christopher Steele. For this project, I studied performance gains in a group of non-musicians across two consecutive days of practice on a sequential key-press task (see Multiple Finger Sequence Task). As part of my study, I investigated distinct behavioural components of motor performance, such as accuracy and synchronization, and how these improved with practice. In accordance with previous literature, my data showed evidence for differential patterns of improvement across these separate components, suggesting that they may be optimized by distinct cognitive and neural processes.
In a bid to generate curiosity in neuroscience amongst an adolescent audience, I spoke at TEDxYouth@Winchester in Dubai, November, 2012. My talk, entitled "What if we could control the brain?" is now available on TED.com. Alternatively, click the link below to watch.
System Administrator/Technical Assistance
Joseph is a computer engineer, musician, and musical instrument designer with a keen interest in developing augmented instruments for both music and research interests. He is specifically interested in the relationship between music technology and musical expression, and seeks to understand how the shape of an instrument can affect performance (and vice versa). Joseph works as the Penhune Lab's Systems Administrator/Techinical Assistant, and is also in the midst of developing an augmented trumpet for his band Open Arms, Fast Hands.
Alessia Di Cesare (Honours student)