You may be familiar with a pilot study, that is, a study designed to encourage more research on a particular topic, methodology or medication. In a recent study in the Journal of Music Therapy, the researchers were not only interested in the outcomes of a group of music therapy interventions but also in the research design and the measurement tools. “Assessing the Impact of Music Therapy on Sensory Gating and Attention in Children with Autism: a Pilot and Feasibility Study” looked at whether or not a music therapy protocol could help children with attentional issues. Sensory gating is the process by which our brains filter out extraneous information. If you can’t filter out the extra stuff that is going on around you, it will likely cause attention problems. Previous studies had shown that certain kinds of brain activity were associated with the gating process. This is where things get more than a little complicated. The researchers wanted to see if EEG measures would correspond with existing standardized behavioral tests. They also compared tests results of neurotypical kids with those of kids with autism. And this is even before music therapy comes in! Testing alone took eight hours per child to complete. Although they worked with a very small sample size (n=7), all children tolerated the testing. The other part of the feasibility portion of the study found that EEG did show differences in the brain activity between neurotypical and autistic children but was better at measuring pre- and post-intervention differences in one area of sensory processing than another. The music therapy portion of the study is fairly interesting as well. Interventions were focused on selective and switching/attentional control and involved introducing competing stimuli and changing rules for musical games. Due to the small sample size, the results are inconclusive. I’m looking forward to seeing more research on this protocol!
Please check out the Journal of Music Therapy if you are interested in learning more about this study!