photo by USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology

Current Research: Keck School of Medicine of USC

Sam is currently working as a postdoctoral scholar in The Bionic Ear Lab, led by Ray Goldsworthy, Ph.D. She is currently funded on an R01 grant from the National Institute of Health investigating music appreciation in cochlear implant users. Cochlear implants (CI) are remarkable devices that allow those who have either lost their hearing or are hard-of-hearing to regain the ability to hear once again. While CIs have been designed to improve the perception of speech, many listeners who use CIs complain that listening to music is a less-than-enjoyable experience. Those with CIs have shown to hear rhythm similarly to those with normal hearing, but being able to discriminate between different pitches is still a difficult task. At the University of Southern California, Sam works with a wonderful team to investigate some the following questions using behavioral and neuroimaging (fNIRS, EEG) methods:

  • Can CI users discriminate pitch across timbres (e.g., different instuments)?
  • Does music listening or training improve pitch discrimination?
  • Does tapping to the beat recruit similar motor-auditory brain regions in both CI users and normal-hearing listeners?
  • Is pitch discrimination in CI users occurring at different brain processing levels?

Graduate School Research: UNLV

Sam completed a Ph.D. in Psychology in 2021 under the training of Joel Snyder, Ph.D. at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory Her graduate work investigated the neural underpinnings of why humans enjoy moving to certain types of music that “groove”, or music that makes you want to move.

Moving to music is a ubiquitous, and sometimes unconscious, phenomenon that occurs in our everyday lives. Many often find themselves tapping their foot or bobbing their head to the music on the car radio while stopped at a red light without even noticing. Sam’s master’s thesis studied the communication between motor and auditory brain areas when listening to music that’s “groovy”. She conducted research electroencephalography (EEG) methods to answer the following research questions:

  • Can listening to “groovy” music promote widespread motor area activation?
  • Is the motor system important in perceiving and feeling the “groove”?

Sam’s dissertation work was conducted online using surveys and music aptitude tests to understand how our experiences shape the way we hear musical groove. Specifically, she sought to understand:

  • How does music and dance sophistication (i.e., a combination of training, appreciation, and experience as a viewer/listener) influence how differently you hear high vs. low groove music?
  • Does having a good sense of beat and/or meter affect musical groove perception?

Post-Baccalaureate Research: Northwestern University and UCLA

Before graduate school, Sam gained experience in other laboratories that has shaped her current interests in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. During her years at Northwestern University, she worked as a research assistant for the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, led by Nina Kraus, Ph.D., collecting data for research projects investigating how auditory training can shape neural listening, measured via the auditory brainstem response (ABR). Her biggest contribution was with the ANL’s collaboration with Harmony Project, a Los Angeles-based non-profit music organization that grants scholarships and music lessons to children from gang-reduction zones.

In between her undergraduate and graduate careers, she worked with Mark Cohen, Ph.D. and Agatha Lenartowicz, Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles on a collaborative project between Think Now, Incorporated and the Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience investigating the neural mechanisms of attention in those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Check out Sam’s research and publications via ResearchGate, Google Scholar,, and her CV.

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