UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Growing up with a brother who is autistic, Penn State student Alexis Basciano saw firsthand the struggles he faced to express when he felt certain emotions.
Basciano also is passionate about music and is a talented musician, spending most of her life singing in choirs and playing musical instruments, including today as a member of the Penn State Blue Band. She’s seen how music can evoke all sorts of emotions in people.
By combining her passion for music and love for her brother, Basciano was inspired to conduct a research project to better understand how individuals with autism identify and express their emotions through music. She hopes to use the findings to help create a better understanding of how autistic individuals perceive and share their emotional experiences.
Basciano, who is majoring in biological sciences and health professions in the Eberly College of Science, is working with Diane Williams, professor and head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and director of the Cognition and Language Learning Lab in the College of Health and Human Development.
“Music is an emotional work of art,” Basciano said. “All music conveys some sort of emotion. Having these individuals in the research project react to these emotional pieces provides a good insight into the way autistic individuals experience and express complex emotions.”
For the research project, autistic adults come into the lab where their hearing and vision are evaluated. They are next tested for nonverbal intelligence and overall vocabulary and interviewed by Williams. Then, participants begin an emotional appraisal of orchestral music, something Basciano created through computer coding.