Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Can music (cognition) save your life?

To explore the research finding I’m about to present, I asked my girlfriend this afternoon to think of the film Saturday Night Fever and the song Stayin’ Alive. Being of the generation that grew-up in the late seventies, she could sing it immediately. I tapped along on my computer spacebar (using MusicMath software) which indicated an average of 105 BPM. And, surprisingly, the original was recorded at 103 BPM (well within the just noticeable difference for tempo perception)!

Dan Levitin and Perry Cook did a similar, but more systematic experiment in the late nineties and found that most people can actually do this quite easily —roughly within a 4-8% tempo difference range—, and especially for songs they are quite familiar with. The results were interpreted as evidence for an (iconic) long term memory for tempo, especially for popsongs that are often heard in one single version.

I was reminded of this research because of a recent e-mail by Lauren Stewart (see earlier blog) pointing me at a news clipping from CNN.com/health with the title Stayin' Alive' has near-perfect rhythm to help jump-start heart, stating:
CHICAGO, Illinois (AP) -- "Stayin' Alive" might be more true to its name than the Bee Gees ever could have guessed: At 103 beats per minute, the old disco song has almost the perfect rhythm to help jump-start a stopped heart. In a small but intriguing study from the University of Illinois medical school, doctors and students maintained close to the ideal number of chest compressions doing CPR while listening to the catchy, sung-in-falsetto tune from the 1977 movie "Saturday Night Fever."
Well, I cannot oversee the impact of this for the medical world (it was published as a pilot study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine), yet it is an another interesting example of the fact that we can easily remember the tempo of a familiar or ‘sticky’ song. The pilot-experiment showed that the participants (ten doctors and five medical students, to be precise) when asked think of Stayin’ Alive could easily reproduce the tempo of the original (in this study an average of 108 BPM). Apparently the ‘stickiness’ of the song proves very useful as a kind of mental metronome in applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

This might well be the first, potential lifesaving application of music and music cognition research :-)

ResearchBlogging.orgLevitin, D. J., Cook, P. R. (1996). Memory for musical tempo: Additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 927-935

ResearchBlogging.orgD. Matlock, J.W. Hafner, E.G. Bockewitz, L.T. Barker, J.D. Dewar (2008). “Stayin' Alive”: A Pilot Study to Test the Effectiveness of a Novel Mental Metronome in Maintaining Appropriate Compression Rates in Simulated Cardiac Arrest Scenarios Annals of Emergency Medicine, 52 (4), S67-S68

ResearchBlogging.orgE. Glenn Schellenberg, Sandra E. Trehub (2003). Good pitch memory is widespread Psychological Science, 14 (3), 262-266 DOI: 10.1111/1467-9280.03432

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Can you point at it?

This week an extra entry with a (repeated) poll related to a research project on older and newer internet technologies that support sharing musical taste and exchange of musical listening experiences.

Before explaining more: would you like to do this informal poll?

(If you like, you can use the Comments option below to mention which piece it actually is.)

The project (in preparation) aims not only to analyze and explicate these existing listening communities (e.g. Last.fm, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify) but also to actively experiment with Web 2.0 technologies by designing and constructing virtual listening spaces that will allow participants to share their listening experiences (LISTEN), make other listeners enthusiastic for a certain musical fragment (LURE), and mark a specific location in an actual recording (LOCATE) - a specific point in the music where a particular listener experienced something special or that s/he considers musically striking or intriguing.

The LOCATE-component of the project was inspired by some early work of John Sloboda (Keele University). He found that a large portion of music listeners could locate (in the score or a recording) specific musical passages that reliably evoked, e.g., shivers down the spine, laughter, tears or a lump in the throat (Sloboda, 1991).

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. A. Sloboda (1991). Music Structure and Emotional Response: Some Empirical Findings Psychology of Music, 19 (2), 110-120 DOI: 10.1177/0305735691192002

Thursday, October 02, 2008

And what was the symposium like?

I just returned from the UK where the Music, Science and the Brain symposium was held in celebration of the end of the European EmCAP project. (The lectures will be online as vodcasts soon.)

I particularly liked, among others, the presentations of David Huron (Ohio State University, US) and Lauren Stewart (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK).

David Huron was the keynote speaker (delivered by video link from Columbus, Ohio), His talk was entitled: ‘How Music Produces Goose-bumps and Why Listeners Enjoy It’. Paralleling one of the chapters of his recent book ‘Sweet Anticipation’ (MIT Press), he treated the audience on a waterfall of ideas and findings on why and how music elicits physiological reactions like goose bums (or piloerection, as it is formally called). Because the speed of it all, some ideas lacked alternative interpretations or proposals on how to (potentially) falsify them. Nevertheless, I’m a great fan of David. His knowledge of the literature is more than impressive. You should read his book that presents these ideas at a more appropriate pace.

Lauren Stewarts’s talk was on amusia (or tone deafness, see earlier blog), and the question of whether people with amusia are destined to get no pleasure out of music (listening) whatsoever. She discussed a recent study, published earlier this year in Music Perception, on the use and functions of music for people ‘suffering’ from amusia. While people with amusia seem to be mostly annoyed by music (‘[I have experienced] just a sort of irritable rage. Now I wonder what others feel and think I may be missing out on something.’), some music appraisal seemed to be shared with ‘normal’ listeners.

ResearchBlogging.orgCLAIRE MCDONALD, LAUREN STEWART (2008). USES AND FUNCTIONS OF MUSIC IN CONGENITAL AMUSIA Music Perception, 25 (4), 345-355 DOI: 10.1525/MP.2008.25.4.345