Psyche Loui discusses how the human brain processes and enable musical experience.

Psyche Loui, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the MIND (Music, Imaging, and Neural Dynamics) Lab, is a long-time violinist and soon-to-be mother. When she’s not in the lab or playing music, she also reads a great deal. The Argus sat down with her to discuss brains, books, and babies.


The Argus: What do you do in your lab?

Psyche Loui: We are mainly interested in music perception and cognition—how the brain enables musical experience. Part of the lab is looking at general topics of music cognition, such as music and language, the inability to perceive music, what causes tone deafness, why are there some people who think they are really bad singers, and what might be different in their brains. We are also interested in how we perceive our own voices. A lot of what we use for our own voice is not necessarily a motor control problem, but an issue of how we hear ourselves, an issue of auditory feedback. There’s a project going on in the lab looking at auditory feedback, there’s a project looking at music and language, [and] there’s a project looking at speech perception in musicians in non-musicians and people who are tone deaf. Part of the lab is also interested in using music as a tool to rehabilitate people with disorders. We are really interested in epilepsy, abnormal brain patterns, and how music might be usable to rehabilitate people with seizures from epilepsy.


A: Do you find time to read outside of that work?

PL: Definitely more during the holidays, but I do find time to read. I think there is great value in engaging in academic reading. You have to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the scientific literature. It’s like reading the news; you have to know what people are doing especially in your field. I have all my Google news feeds and Google scholar alerts on papers on music and the brain that come up, so whenever a new paper comes up it should make its way to my inbox, so I try to keep up on those.


A: What do you read outside your field?

PL: Right now I’m trying to teach myself a lot about creativity. There is a book chapter that I’m working on with two recent graduates on the neuroscience of creativity. That’s something we are all reading about right now, and hopefully it will be published by the end of the year. It’s been really fun to look into the research people have done on how fMRI might be used as a tool to look at creativity. What does creativity really mean? If you were good at coming up with ideas, but they’re crazy ideas, are you creative? Are you original without creativity? That’s the lion’s share of my checkout list from the library, books on creativity.


A: What do you read for fun?

PL: I spend time reading novels and nonfiction books, which is relaxing. What fun things do I have in my bag? I’m just starting to read this book called “The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.” I’m just getting started on it. I was told it’s very funny. The same author wrote another book called “The Hundred Year Old Man or The Man Who Jumped Out the Window.” It’s always “the something that something.” It’s very funny and random. For nonfiction, I’ve recently read “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” which is a very well-done study of Chinese food all around the world. Not actual Chinese food, but American Chinese food. So there is a chapter about the fortune cookie and where that came from, it’s not actually Chinese, the boxes that Chinese takeout comes in and where they came from, why Jewish people eat Chinese food on Christmas, all of these very interesting things that you never knew. It’s great trivia. That’s high on my nonfiction list.

There’s this book called “The Echo Maker.”  It’s a fiction book about neuroscience by an author called Richard Powers. I think he was actually a Pulitzer Prize runner-up for one of his books. This one is about an interesting case of Capgras Syndrome. It’s about this young man, a 27-year-old, who was driving in a truck, got into a mysterious car accident, got a concussion and was very badly injured. He mostly recovers, except he can’t recognize the people that he loves the most. He thinks that they have been replaced by people who are trying to harm him. He thinks that his sister is an impostor, that his dog is an impostor, that the whole town [are] impostor[s]. Everyone he has formed a strong bond towards, he suddenly feels is turning against him. Originally [that] is called Capgras syndrome, but it’s shaking the foundations of what we know about the brain pathways responsible for this syndrome. The other protagonist in the book is an Oliver Sacks type character, a neurologist working on the case, and it talks about how it affects his life as well. It’s a really interesting read. This author has been great because he’s very scientifically knowledgeable and also just a good writer, so I’ve been kind of obsessing over his books. There’s another one called “Generosity.” It’s about finding the genes that give rise to happiness, if there might be certain genetic patterns that give rise to happiness. It zooms in on this one girl who supposedly has it. He’s a really cool interesting author.


A: Do you have a stack of books about “how to mom” yet?

PL: People give me books, I do have a stack of books about “how to mom,” but maybe 20 percent of it is “what’s happening to you right now,” and the other eighty percent is “these are the scary things that might happen to you but probably won’t.” Then there are others about which baby car seat you should be buying and things like that. I haven’t actually bought any books yet because people have been very kind in giving me lots of them. Honestly, I like the fiction more.

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