Waves by Adam Trefonides.

Waves by Adam Trefonides.

I'm fascinated by how the brain coordinates its complex activities in time.  I am interested in the neural coordination underlying attention, and in communication through speech and music. I am especially curious about rhythm, which is present in music and language but also within the brain itself.


I am currently a postdoc in the department of Neurological Surgery at Northwestern. My advisor, Dr. Matthew Tate, specializes in awake brain surgery for the removal of brain tumors. Surgeries are typically performed awake when the tumor is impinging on brain areas critical for language or movement, since this allows Dr. Tate to continuously monitor the patient's function during surgery so he can maximize the removal of the tumor without compromising the patient's ability to speak or move. His extraordinary work helps extend the lives of individuals with brain cancer, and also offers a unique opportunity to study the inner workings of the brain. With the patients' permission, we take a few minutes during surgery to have the patient perform a simple attention task, while simultaneously recording the brain's electrical activity directly from the surface of the brain using a technique called electroencephalography (ECoG). With a high degree of accuracy, this allows us to understand not only which areas of the brain are active, but also to see how activity in the different regions changes and interacts over time (something that imaging techniques typically cannot provide). For more information about Dr. Tate's surgery techniques, check out this video.

Rhythm, COGNITION AND speech perception

I completed my PhD in the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University with Dr. Nina Kraus. My dissertation work investigated rhythm and neural timing in speech perception and cognition, in adult drummers, vocalists and non-musicians. I discovered that rhythm skills relate with the ability to understand sentences in noise, and also that stronger rhythm skills relate with stronger attention skills.

Slater J, Ashley R, Tierney A, Kraus N (in press) Got Rhythm? Better Inhibitory Control Is Linked with More Consistent Drumming and Enhanced Neural Tracking of the Musical Beat in Adult Percussionists and Nonpercussionists Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01189

Slater J, Azem A, Nicol T, Swedenborg B, Kraus N (2017) Variations on the theme of musical expertise: cognitive and sensory processing in percussionists, vocalists and non-musiciansEuropean Journal of Neuroscience. 45(7): 952-963.

Slater J, Kraus N. (2015) The role of rhythm in perceiving speech in noise: A comparison of percussionists, vocalists and non-musicians. Cognitive Processing.

Impact of music training on development

My qualifying project as a graduate student was a three-year longitudinal study looking at the impact of music training on brain development and language skills in elementary school children. This project was carried out in collaboration with Harmony Project in L.A. and revealed improvements in speech-in-noise perception and neural processing of speech as well as rhythm skills after music training. 

Slater J, Skoe E, Strait D, O'Connell S, Thompson E, Kraus N (2015) Music training improves speech-in-noise perception: Longitudinal evidence from a community-based music program. Behavioural Brain Research

Krizman J, Slater J, Skoe E, Marian V, Kraus N. (2015) Neural processing of speech in children is influenced by extent of bilingual experience. Neuroscience Letters.

Kraus N, Hornickel J, Strait DL, Slater J, Thompson EC. (2014) Engagement in community music classes sparks neuroplasticity and language development in children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Frontiers in Psychology, Cognitive Science.

Slater J, Strait DL, Skoe E, O’Connell S, Thompson E, Kraus N. (2014) Longitudinal effects of group music instruction on literacy skills in low-income children. PlosOne.

Kraus N, Slater J, Thompson E, Hornickel J, Strait DL, Nicol T, White-Schwoch T. (2014) Auditory learning through active engagement with sound: Biological impact of community music lessons in at-risk children. Frontiers Aud Cogn Neurosci. 8(351).

Kraus N, Slater J, Thompson E, Hornickel J, Strait D, Nicol T and White-Schwoch T (2014) Music enrichment programs improve the neural encoding of speech in at-risk children. Journal of Neuroscience.

Slater J, Tierney A, Kraus N (2013) At-risk elementary school children with one year of classroom music instruction are better at keeping a beat. PlosOne. 8(10): e77250.

Attention and cortical response variability

I worked on an interesting collaboration in my first couple of years in the lab where we investigated relationships between attention and the variability of the brain's response to sound. 

Strait DL, Slater J, O'Connell S, Kraus N (2015) Music training relates to the development of neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. 12: 94-104

Strait DL, Slater J, Abecassis V, Kraus N. (2014) Cortical response variability as a developmental index of selective auditory attention. Developmental Science. 17 (2): 175–186.

Book chapters

I have co-authored two chapters about music, language and the brain with my advisor, Dr. Nina Kraus. These are intended for a more general audience.

Kraus N, Slater J (2015) Music and language: relations and disconnections. in The Human Auditory System: Fundamental Organization and Clinical Disorders, 3rd Series. G. Celesia and G. Hickok (eds) Handbook of Clinical Neurology Vol 129. Elsevier, Amsterdam.  

Kraus N, Slater J (2016). Beyond words: How humans communicate through sound. Annual Review of Psychology.