Elizabeth Troiano: Research Across Disciplines


Elizabeth Troiano: Research Across Disciplines

March 5, 2019

A selfie of Elizabeth Troiano with headphones on, working on her research in a sound-editing program called Praat.

Majors: Linguistics & Psychology
Minor: Italian
Class of 2020

By Ana Mitchell

Psycholinguistics, the study of how people speak, understand, and process language, is what bridges junior Elizabeth Troiano’s studies of psychology and linguistics. Troiano ended her freshman year as a psychology major and was looking to refine her focus within the field. She believed the best way to do that was to get involved in a psychology research lab, which led to her discovery of psycholinguistics. She declared a linguistics minor shortly afterward and found a strong interest in those courses over the years. “I realized I wanted to step linguistics up to a major because I really liked it and saw myself heading more in that direction.”

Troiano’s minor in Italian came as a combination of her Italian family history and having exposure to the language in elementary school. “In elementary school I was lucky enough to have the option to take a language. Starting in third grade we were offered the choice between Spanish and Italian.” She switched to studying Latin in high school because of the well-established community and the foundation it could provide her for learning other languages. However, Troiano knew coming to college that she wanted to pick up Italian again and study abroad in Italy, which she will do this summer in Siena for eight weeks.

Though Troiano is only a junior, she has been working on her senior thesis this past year, which she will defend next semester. Her research in the Language Perception Lab looks at the use of perceptual grouping cues in studying the coherence of speech sounds across a sentence. Simply put, she describes it as studying how it is possible to listen to and understand what one person is saying in a noisy room with lots of other talkers. Troiano studies this by employing a dichotic listening task, in which sounds are presented on either side of the head at the same time. In her experiment, a sentence is presented in one ear while /s/ sounds are presented in the other, and participants are told to repeat back the sentence they heard. Each sentence contains a key word, like ‘base,’ which can have an /s/ added to it to make ‘space,’ and the sentences are grammatically correct whether the key word has the /s/ or not. Troiano is researching whether or not participants group the /s/ with the key word, and at what point in a sentence they do so, to gain insight into how people process speech. Troiano will be presenting her research findings at the Spring Undergraduate Research Festival on March 26, 2019.

After graduation, Troiano is looking to take a year off to refine her interests before heading into a PhD program. She is currently most interested in continuing with linguistics and specializing in language and pedagogy or second language acquisition. This would allow her to maintain a connection with Italian, the pursuit of which she described as one of her best decisions at Ohio State. However, she is keeping her options open, as she is still considering programs in cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

For her year off, Troiano hopes to find work in a linguistics research lab, as her current research is through psychology. She wants to focus on her academics and research her senior year, setting aside the GRE and graduate school applications for her gap year. “I think the gap year will be good in a lot of ways because it will allow me to spread myself out a little bit and be very certain about what I end up pursuing for my PhD.”