Variation by musicianship

I am fascinated by patterns of individual variation in speech perception and production based on experience, such as musical training.


Dissertation research

In my dissertation, advised by Dr. Georgia Zellou, Dr. Santiago Barreda, and Dr. Antoine Shahin, I explored whether musicians/nonmusicians differ in the acoustic cues used to perceive speech in challenging listening conditions. For example, does musicianship improve your ability to understand your friend in a crowded restaurant?

I’ve presented this work at the Northwest Phon{etics; ology} Conference (NoWPhon) in Vancouver, BC and at the Music, Language, and Cognition International Summer School in Como, Italy, and Linguistic Society of America’s Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT.


Sentence perception with a 1-talker interferer

  • Cohn (2018): I found differences for younger musicians and nonmusicians perceiving a target sentence (varying in f0 separation), but no difference between the groups for older listeners.
  • I presented this research at the 2018 Linguistic Society of America (LSA) Annual Meeting.

Newsworthy abstract published in LSA Media Advisory


Acoustic cue weighting for “beat” vs. “bead” in noise

  • Cohn, Zellou, & Barreda (2019): We found differences in acoustic cue weighting across noise conditions (silence and multitalker babble) for musicians and nonmusicians.
  • We presented this work at the 2019 Interspeech conference.

Neurolinguistic variation by musicianship

I have also examined patterns of variation in speech/music perception using neurolinguistic methods.


Meta-analysis of language & music auditory processing

  • I found different patterns of lateralization in musicians and nonmusicians perceiving music/speech across published studies.
  • I presented this work at the Society for the Neurobiology of Language Conference (October 2015, Chicago) and at the UC Davis Symposium on Language Research (April 2015, Davis).

This project won the 2015 UC Davis Department of Linguistics Lapointe Award


Neural language processing in musicians vs. nonmusicians: An investigation of the ‘visual word form area’ .

  • With David Corina & Laurel Lawyer, I developed a pilot study examining the effects of language and musical experience on the visual processing pathways in the putative ‘visual word form area’ (VWFA). Our preliminary results suggest that extensive musical training may have an effect on patterns of lateralization for word reading.
  • I’ve presented this work at the Society for the Neurobiology of Language Conference (August 2014, Amsterdam), UC Davis Symposium on Language Research (April 2014, Davis).

I won the Chancellor’s Grand Prize for Best Oral Presentation ($5,000) & Dean’s Prize for Best Oral Presentation in Social Sciences ($1,000) for a talk on this project at the 2014 UC Davis Interdisciplinary Graduate and Professional Symposium