Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's new in neuroscience and music?

Neurosciences and Music
The conference entitled The Neurosciences and Music-IV: Learning and Memory was held at the University of Edinburgh from June 9–12, 2011, jointly hosted by the Mariani Foundation and the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, and involving nearly 500 international delegates. Two opening workshops, three large and vibrant poster sessions, and nine invited symposia introduced a diverse range of recent research findings and discussed current research directions. In the reference below (Altenmüller et al., 2012), the proceedings are introduced by the workshop and symposia leaders on topics including working with children, rhythm perception, language processing, cultural learning, memory, musical imagery, neural plasticity, stroke rehabilitation, autism, and amusia. The rich diversity of the interdisciplinary research presented suggests that the future of music neuroscience looks both exciting and promising, and that important implications for music rehabilitation and therapy are being discovered.

ResearchBlogging.orgAltenmüller, E., Demorest, S., Fujioka, T., Halpern, A., Hannon, E., Loui, P., Majno, M., Oechslin, M., Osborne, N., Overy, K., Palmer, C., Peretz, I., Pfordresher, P., Särkämö, T., Wan, C., & Zatorre, R. (2012). Introduction to The Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning and Memory Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252 (1), 1-16 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06474.x

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2012). Without it no music: beat induction as a fundamental musical trait Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252 (1), 85-91 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06402.x

Monday, April 23, 2012

Too catchy a tune? (Earworms revisited)

A spontaneously popping up melody?
It’s a well-known phenomenon in the media: once you've contributed to a radio or tv program on a compelling, general interest question, journalists will return to you with the same question over and over again, and, basically, wanting you to redo the same answer.

It happened to me a few years ago when I was asked to contribute to a Dutch TV item on the question why some melodies stick in your mind. My first answer was: we do not know. Simply because if we knew, an ‘earworm’-generating computer program would exist that can generate melodies that are guaranteed to stick in people’s mind for days. In this case I’m sure nobody would mind.

But unfortunately for science, now —five years later— we still do not know what is the nature of this phenomenon.

What we do know —mainly from questionnaire-style research— is that most people suffer from the ‘earworm’ phenomenon (also referred to as brainworm, cognitive itch, or musical imagery repetition), females slightly more than males. And that the tunes that spontaneously pop-up in one’s mind are generally not the most striking compositions. Actually, they are commonly reported as being simply irritating.

Why does this happen? And what does it tells us about our cognition? And why does it happen with music, and significantly less with text or images? What is in the musical structure of that particular fragment that makes it spontaneously pop-up from memory?

We simply do not know.

Vicky Williamson
Luckily some researchers have been successful in convincing their funding agencies that these are interesting and pressing questions. A recent example is Vicky Williamson, who, in collaboration with Lauren Stewart from Goldsmiths, University of London, succeeded in securing a grant to seriously look into this phenomenon. See a recent radio interview below. And if you are interested in contributing to their research: they still look for PhD candidates.

(Alternative link.)

N.B. In Amsterdam we will start investigating earworms as well, in a project named COGITCH* — a collaboration between Utrecht University, University of Amsterdam, Sound & Vision, Radio 5 and Meertens Institute. We will be developing a web-based environment, so-called ITCH environment (Identification, Tagging and Characterization of Hooks) to obtain large amounts of judgments from the lay audience on what makes a fragment of music easy recognizable and/or stick in one’s mind. More on this later this year.

* A cognitive itch refers to an ‘earworm’, a fragment of music that you can’t get out of your head.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2010). Lure(d) into listening: The potential of cognition-based music information retrieval. Empirical Musicology Review, 5(4), 121-126.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Is music a result of sexual selection?

Illustration from the article cited.
Yesterday, Tecumseh Fitch — presenting at the SMART Lecture Series of the University of Amsterdam — discussed the likelihood of the sexual selection hypothesis; Darwin’s first guess of why we might have music. Fitch argued that virtually all the available empirical evidence is against that hypothesis, including a recent study by his own group that will come out in PLoS One. And I simply agree (see earlier blogs).

Nevertheless, Geoffrey Miller, author of The Mating Mind, took up Darwin's first guess* and argued that music is one of the things humans successfully use to impress the other. This week Gary Marcus (New York University) and Geoffrey Miller (University of New Mexico) had a discussion on this issue in The Atlantic. You can read it here.

* Darwin had one other suggestion in the 11 pages he wrote on the possible origins of music, but that's a story for another blog. Blute, M. (2003). [Book Review: The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature] The Quarterly Review of Biology, 78 (1), 129-130 DOI: 10.1086/377917

ResearchBlogging.orgDarwin, G. (1871) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.London: Murray (p. 878).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wat maakt ons muzikale dieren? [Dutch]

De 12e Van Foreest publiekslezing wordt
gehouden in de Grote Kerk in Alkmaar
[Uit het programmaboekje van de 12e Van Foreest Publiekslezing] 

Wat moet je weten, kunnen of waarderen om muzikaal te zijn? In de afgelopen jaren zijn we daar in het vakgebied muziekcognitie veel over te weten gekomen. En ik zal daar in deze lezing diverse voorbeelden van geven. Maar de lezing zal vooral gaan over een zoektocht die ik pas recentelijk begonnen ben: onderzoek met als doel niet alleen de vraag te beantwoorden wat muzikaliteit is, maar ook de vraag in hoeverre we muzikaliteit delen met andere dieren, om er zo achter te komen wat is er nodig is om muziek te laten ontstaan.

Na jaren lang met name de methoden en technieken uit de psychologie en de informatica gebruikt te hebben om muziek te bestuderen, heb ik de laatste tijd met regelmaat gegluurd tussen de gordijnen van de evolutionaire psychologie en de neurobiologie. Dit met de vraag: wat is er te zeggen over de oorsprong van muziek en muzikaliteit vanuit een biologisch en evolutionair perspectief?

In deze lezing zal ik verslag doen. Een bij tijd en wijle letterlijk verslag van een recent ingezet onderzoeksprogramma, een programma waarvan niet meer dan enkele contouren in zicht waren toen ik begon met schrijven. Ik hoop dan ook maar dat de aanwezigen het leuk vinden om mee te gluren. Maar ik hoop ook dat zij niet teleurgesteld zullen zijn als er aan het eind van de lezing geen sluitend antwoord is. Het blijft natuurlijk wetenschap. En dat gaat stapje voor stapje, en niet per definitie in de juiste richting.

Voor meer informatie zie hier.

Photos: Courtesy of Rien van Zuijlen.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Wetenschap in de blogosfeer? [Dutch]

Uit De bloggende wetenschap (Folia), over Music Matters | A blog on music cognition:
"Ik weet niet direct wat muziekcognitie is, maar dat is geen probleem. Dit is een prima blog, gemaakt door een vakidioot die zo te zien met liefde over het onderwerp schrijft. Hij blogt niet veel, niet eens een keer per week, maar wel uitgebreid en nauwkeurig. En voor hem is het voordeel dat hij nu gedwongen is te schrijven, het proces van zijn onderzoek met zijn volgers te delen en zijn gedachten te structureren en te verwoorden."