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Erica Cao


Erica is interested in how music, the arts and humanities enrich clinical research, learning and practice. Her MPhil research with Prof. Ian Cross explored how people with autistic characteristics perceive emotions in music and other domains.  In fall of 2014, Erica joined medical school at the Columbia University College for Physicians and Surgeons. hoping to shape a more creative and compassionate medicine through interdisciplinary research, medical education and programs in the medical humanities.  She has intermitted from her physician training to undertake a PhD which focuses on the collaborative songwriting projects that she has initiated in the context of her non-profit organisation Humans in Harmony, aiming to identify and understand the ways in which joint musical activities can enhance intersubjectivity in healing processes.  Her MPhil & PhD studies are funded by Gates Cambridge Scholarships.

Prior to joining the Centre for Music and Science in 2013, Erica studied Psychology and Music Performance (piano) at Princeton University. She co-founded the Princeton Music in Mind Society, and in the process of doing so met her soon-to-be mentor, Prof. Phil Johnson-Laird, with whom she began research in music cognition. With funding from the Princeton Center for Civic Engagement, Erica developed a novel music program which taught juvenile delinquents to write songs for pediatric patients, and her senior thesis research demonstrated the benefits of the program in increasing empathy, self-esteem and pro-social behavior.

Erica’s collective experiences in music psychology, engagement in music with others and personal identification with music as a child have led her to believe that music, and the arts and humanities as a whole, is a window to understanding human nature and connecting with others. These multidimensional understandings of what it means to be human is crucial not only for medicine and the doctor-patient relationship, but for society at-large.



Key Publications

Cao, E.L., Lotstein, M., & Johnson-Laird P.N. (2014). Similarity and families of musical rhythms. Music Perception, 31(5), 444-469. doi:

Cao, E. & Gowda, D. (2018) Collaborative songwriting for health sciences interprofessional service learning.  Medical Education,