Christina Zhao, Ph.D.

Research Scientist

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Dr. Tian Christina Zhao is a Research Scientist at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. Her background intercepts various disciplines, including speech and hearing sciences, psychology, biology and piano performance. Her research focuses on how the human brain processes complex sounds, such as speech and music; and how early experience, such as music training or language background, may influence these neural processes. Dr. Zhao conducts research with a wide range of methods, including behavioral, electrophysiological (MEG, EEG) and physiological (ECG) measurements in both adults and infants. She is also actively collaborating nationally and internationally with researchers in music, speech perception as well as developmental neuroscience.

Areas of Research

1. Effect of early music training on music processing and its generalization effects to speech processing. The central research question that I am passionate about is to understand how early auditory experience shapes how we learn to hear complex sounds such as speech and music. Understanding this question is important in understanding neural plasticity, and more importantly, how we can enhance auditory experience to help developing children learn languages, especially children at-risk for language disorders.

2. Effect of early language experience on neural speech encoding and perception. Another approach that I have adopted to examine the experience-related effects on acoustic processing is through studying early language experience. Most recently, using simultaneous M/EEG, I demonstrated that early language experience can affect speech processing at the level of brainstem encoding, and that brainstem encoding of speech predicts perception.

3. The intersection of music and speech perception. By conducting studies to understand whether/how much speech and music perception can be explained from general acoustic processes, we can gain insights into some shared mechanisms between music and speech processing. I have approached these questions by using non-speech or manipulated speech sounds to characterize certain aspects of speech perception.

Curriculum Vitae



Zhao, T. C., Masapollo, M., Polka, L., Ménard, L., & Kuhl, P. K. (2019). Effects of formant proximity and stimulus prototypicality on the neural discrimination of vowels: Evidence from the auditory frequency-following response. Brain and Language,194, 77-83. (PDF)

Masapollo, M., Zhao, T. C., Franklin, L., & Morgan, J. L. (2019). Asymmetric discrimination of non-speech tonal analogues of vowels. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 45(2), 285-300. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000603 (PDF)

Khalil, A., Minces, V. H., Iversen, J., Musacchia, G., Zhao, T. C., & Chiba, A. A. (2019). Music, Cognition and Education. Learning in the Digital Age: Towards a Science of Learning for 21st Century Education. Educational Research and Innovation. Kuhl, P. K., Lim, S-S., Guerriero, S. & Van Damme, D., Paris, OECD Publishing, (PDF)

Zhao, T. C., & Kuhl, P. K. (2018). Linguistic effect on speech perception observed at the brainstem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1800186115 (PDF)

Zhao, T. C., Lam, H. T. G., Sohi, H., & Kuhl, P. K. (2017). Neural processing of musical meter in musicians and non-musicians. Neuropsychologia, 106 (Supplement C), 289-297. doi: (PDF)

Zhao, T. C., & Kuhl, P. K. (2017). Effects of enriched auditory experience on infants’ speech perception during the first year of life. PROSPECTS, 1-13. doi:10.1007/s11125-017-9397-6 (PDF)

Zhao, T. C. & Kuhl, P. K. (2016). Music intervention enhances infants’ neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(19), 5212–5217. doi:10.1073/pnas.1603984113 (PDF)

Zhao, T. C. & Kuhl, P. K. (2015). Higher-level linguistic categories dominate over lower-level acoustics in lexical tone processing. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 138(2), EL133–EL137, doi: 10.1121/1.4927632 (PDF)

Zhao, T. C. & Kuhl, P. K. (2015). Effect of musical experience on learning lexical tone categories. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 137(3), 1452–1463, doi:10.1121/1.4913457 (PDF)

Zhao, T., Moon, C., Lagercrantz, H., & Kuhl, P. (2011). Prenatal Motherese? Newborn Speech Perception May Be Enhanced by Having a Young Sibling. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 16 (2), 90–94. (PDF)

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