Psychological and Neural Differences of Music Processing in Autistic Individuals: A Scoping Review

Eugenia Hernandez-Ruiz, Ruowen Qi, Emily Welsh, Madelyn Wampler, Liesel Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Despite abundant research and clinical evidence of the effectiveness of music interventions for people in the autism spectrum, understanding of music processing in this community is limited. We explored whether research evidence of differences in music processing within the autistic community is available. We developed a scoping review to search for literature with the terms "music", "processing,"and "autism"(and variants). We searched PubMed, CINAHL, Scopus, Web of Science, PsycInfo, Academic Search Complete, ERIC, and Music Index databases for a total of 10,857 articles, with 5,236 duplicates. The remaining 5,621 titles and abstracts were screened for eligibility by a team of four undergraduate and graduate students and the PI. Seventy-five studies were included for data extraction. Data were analyzed with descriptive statistics regarding author, study, stimulus, and participant information, and a thematic analysis of outcome and findings. Our findings are preliminary given the emerging nature of the literature, the use of mostly non-musical auditory stimuli, passive listening experiences, and underreported demographics. However, the literature shows some evidence of differences in music processing for autistic individuals, including reduced habituation to non-musical and musical stimuli; truncated, delayed, or divergent developmental trajectories; and possible compensatory higher-order mechanisms that yield similar behavioral responses even in the presence of divergent neural correlates. Music therapists are encouraged to adopt a developmental perspective, not only of general skills, but specifically of music skill development in this community, and to extrapolate these findings with caution, given the current limitations in the evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-124
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Music Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • autism spectrum disorders
  • music
  • music processing
  • music therapy
  • neuroscience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and Manual Therapy
  • Music


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