Cognitive psychology professor seeks to understand human thinking using sound

Making a list can help students organize and focus on work. Sounds can affect focus; a psychology faculty member studies sounds' effects on cognitive psychology. (Photo illustration by Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group)

Matthew Wisniewski, assistant professor in psychology, is using his ongoing research in sound to help explain cognitive psychology.

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception and thinking. Most of these processes are utilized regularly throughout the day by completing basic activities.

In his particular field of research, Wisniewski and his research assistants study people as they go through the process of hearing an unfamiliar sound. As they listen to the sound more, they can begin to understand and start to identify what type of sound they are hearing.

This particular process allows Wisniewski to see what happens inside the human brain as they learn about the sound. The research, Wisniewski said, aims to accelerate learning based on the findings used in the behavioral lab.

Avery Gates, freshman in elementary education, said she was intrigued when she heard about the research project Wisniewski is carrying out.

“I feel like in certain situations with people or kids who have sensory issues it could help them focus better when they are able to hear certain, familiar sounds,” Gates said.

One of the tools used to gather this research is the electroencephalogram, which records brain waves. The electrodes of the EEG are placed on the scalp and record waves from the frontal lobe.

While you can’t see what people are thinking, Wisniewski said it allows you to see electrical activity and the reflection of neurons in the brain acting simultaneously. By tracking these actions, Wisniewski and his team can track how a subject responds to the sounds, monitoring how the brain learns and how hard it is working.

“I want to keep moving the science forward, it is nice to be part of a process of making new knowledge,” Wisniewski said.