Music, the brain, and microfunding

Blurb from Amy Belfi’s project posted on Microryza:

People who have suffered brain injuries can often lose their memories – a loss that can be distressing to both patients and caregivers. Notably, music is often strongly intertwined with one’s personal memories – the first dance at your wedding, your mother’s favorite song, or the lullaby you sang to your children.

Music is well known to spark vivid memories, and songs are often associated with events of our lives. I will leverage these phenomena to develop ways to treat neurological patients (e.g, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke) and improve their quality of life.

Music and Disability Studies

If you have never heard of disability studies, you might be interested to know that not only there is a field with that name, but that for the last ten years or so, there has been interdisciplinary work done at the cross-roads of music and disability studies.

Read an interview with Joe Straus, a music theorist (who happens to be my Ph.D. advisor) who has been instrumental in developing this interdisciplinary endeavor:


Janata Lab, UC Davis

The Janata Lab at the University of California, Davis focuses on three broad projects.

One project looks into the relationships between music, memory and emotion.  This has led them to investigate music-evoked nostalgia and music-evoked autobiographical memories, as well as the effect of music on Alzheimer’s patients.

Their “Groove Project” is aimed at “understand[ing] the psychology and neuroscience behind the somewhat ephemeral concept and potent musical experience of being ‘in the groove.'”

Their “Musical Spaces” project is aimed at understanding the movement within what they define as the three great musical spaces: tonal, temporal and timbral.  They use quantitative descriptions of how music moves in these spaces, which can be manifested in computer animations, to figure out what parts of the brain track these changes.

Music and the Mind Lab at Vanderbilt University

Led by Dr. Elisabeth Dykens, the Music and the Mind laboratory at Vanderbilt has a wide variety of interests, but primarily conducts research regarding music processing in people with developmental disabilities and ERP studies on the relationship between music, musical expectancy, and language processing. Other areas of interest include the relationship between studying music and heightened creativity and therapeutic qualities of music (for neonatal infants or for people with dementia). This laboratory is one of the only labs in the world that studies the connection between music and Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to an interesting blend of cognitive impairment, strong social skills, and an immense affinity for music. Its studies are conducted on young adults with Williams Syndrome during a one-week music camp at the university.

Laboratory of Andrea R. Halpern, Ph.D., Bucknell University

Andrea R. Halpern’s research focuses on projects related to memory, cognitive aging, and music cognition. Her work specifically related to music cognition includes studying implicit memory for music, auditory imagery, environmental sounds, the functioning of musical experts, everyday musical experiences and senior citizens’ memory for music. Dr. Halpern is the 2012-2013 President of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

“Dr. Halpern studies cognitive processes such as memory and thinking, especially for nonverbal materials. Of particular interest to her is how musicians and nonmusicians understand and remember music. One recent project was an investigation of auditory imagery, or what is happening when you “hear a tune inside your head.” She has studied this using the traditional tools of experimental psychology, as well as with cognitive neuroscience techniques. She is also interested in how both normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease affect how people learn and remember music.”

Music Cognition Group, Universiteit Van Amsterdam

The Music Cognition group at the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit Van Amsterdam) focuses on melody and rhythm research. The 4 main questions they seek to explore are:

“1. What is shared (and what unique) in music versus language processing?

2. What are the music structural and cognitive components that contribute to the memory, recall and transmission of melodies?

3. What are the cognitive and biological building blocks of musicality?

4. What are the cognitive mechanisms and neurological correlates of rhythm perception?”


What interests me the most, from having seen some research about rhythm so far this semester and continuing as we read more and more, is the last question. One abstract I read that was particularly intriguing concerned a study by Henkjan Honing in which he discovered that Rhesus monkeys do not have the same rhythmic entrainment as humans (and a few species of birds) do. This supports the vocal learning hypothesis, that entrainment is a byproduct of learning to produce music vocally.

Here’s the article!

(“Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) Detect Rhythmic Groups in Music, but Not the Beat” by Henkjan Honing et al.).

Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory of Ohio State University

This website is the online home of the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory led by Prof. David Huron of Ohio State University. Some highlights of their work includes a study concerning a listener’s knowledge gained from brief musical excerpts, as well as a project that studies that average spectrum ofl timbre of orchestral instrument tones.

Music Perception and Cognition Lab, McGill University

This lab employs the techniques of digital signal processing, mechanics, psychophysics, cognitive psychology, psychophysiology, and cognitive neuroscience to understand what it calls ‘psychomechanics’: “the relations between the properties of mechanical objects and the perception of the events they produce.” The lab is particularly focused on questions about timbre, multimodal scene analysis, the temporal nature of music cognition and its relation to musical sound and structure.

The site includes links to music library and resources, online resources, psychology web sites, and collaborating institutions.


Brain and Cognition Lab, Oxford University

Although not a music perception/cognition lab per se, this lab combines behavioral and neuroscientific techniques (EEG, MEG, MRI, TMS) to tackle questions about temporal attention more generally. Many of the experiments employ rhythmic stimuli as a means of getting at these larger questions. The PI, Prof. Kia Nobre, is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on temporal attention, and her book “Attention and Time” is widely read in the field.

The lab website features standard links to collaborators, research questions, publications, etc., and also has a new blog.