Saturday, August 10, 2013

Society for Music Perception and Cognition 2013

As those who know me are quite well aware of by now, I wear a lot of hats.  This weekend, I've donned my music-psychology hat and am attending a four-day conference hosted by the Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC).

In 2010 I attended the international version of this conference.  I was in the beginning stages of my graduate degree and wanted to immerse myself in the current research at the time, so I could pin down a direction for my own M.A. thesis, so I made the trip all the way out to Seattle for the occasion.

This year, the SMPC is conveniently being held in Toronto, so I had no excuse not to submit my now completed research to be considered for presentation.

Much to my excitement (and alarm), I was selected to give a talk.  Despite my terror at the idea of public speaking, apparently I was coherent, got to tell a room of people about my research for fifteen minutes and answer their questions.  I even got a lovely write up by Dr. Victoria Williamson's music psychology blog, who is live-blogging the conference proceedings.  (Make sure you check out the rest of her blog, which is a great place to read about other topics in music psychology in friendly, accessible language).

So what do music psychology researchers talk about at big fancy conferences like these?  Does applying "science" to the study of music take away from it's visceral experience?  Do "experiments" give us insights into real-life music performance and teaching experiences?  Is any of this research applicable to real-world problems?

The short answer is yes!

Here are some of the many varied topics I've heard about in the past few days:

  •  Preliminary findings show that giving music lessons to deaf children with cochlear implants may improve their abilities to perceive and produce emotions in speech.  ("Music and linguistic benefits of music training in deaf children with cochlear implants", Arla Good, Ryerson University).

  •  While studies have shown individuals with autism do not integrate auditory and visual cues when perceiving language (i.e. spoken words with lip movements) the way others do (to help enhance meaning), they do not appear to have this deficit when perceiving musical tones + gestures.  "These findings have potential implications for understanding core features of sensory processing in [autism] and for designing related treatment interventions."  ("Using music to explore sensory processing in autism" - Laura B. Silverman, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry).
  •  Setting multiplication facts to unique musical melodies, fun lyrics (e.g. "three times three, nine cans of pee"), and simple movements helps children memorize otherwise tedious math facts.  While it is unknown if this method works better than others, it is an intriguing use of music and the children shown in the video presented were obviously having a lot of fun! ("Music as a kinesthetic pedagogical tool to teach mathematics in early elementary years", Afarin Mansouri Tehrani, York University)

  •  Music doesn't make you smarter!  Despite an explosion of popular media outlets and research studies claiming otherwise, a careful analysis of the real factors involved in who takes music lessons reveals that high IQ and doing well in school are not caused by musical training.  Instead, "young children whose parents are high in openness-to-experience... are those who tend to become musically educated."  Personality factors of the child are also the biggest predictors of which children continue with music lessons and for how long.  This is a very important finding because it frees up music educators from trying to make a case for music lessons as having unrelated benefits and allows us to begin to have an honest discussion of what music DOES do for us.  Music is a unique and important part of the human experience; it doesn't need to be "justified" by appealing to unrelated benefits. ("Predicting who takes music lessons: The role of demographic,cognitive, and personality variables."  E. Glenn Schellenberg, standing in for Kathleen A. Corrigall, University of Toronto Mississauga.)

  • Ever had a song repeat over and over in your head that you couldn't get rid of? Fascinating research still in it's infancy shows that over 90% of people experience this phenomenon at least once a week, and that people try a huge variety of methods to try and get rid of them (if they're deemed unpleasant, which they often are not).  Many songs have been identified as "cures" for earworms if they are played in the head to "replace" the repeating song, which brings up an interesting question - what are the features of these songs (many people even reported the same song to work, like God Save the Queen or Happy Birthday) that makes them effective at getting rid of the ear worm?  Dr. Williamson also brought up another fascinating use for this research - imagine if all the things we wanted to remember (e.g. information for an exam) sprang to mind as easily as an earworm? ("How do you control your earworms? Coping strategies for managing involuntary musical imagery", Victoria J. Williamson, Goldsmiths University of London).  (Want to be part of this exciting research?  Visit the The Earwormery!)
To view the abstracts of all the talks, visit this link

The conference is only half over; I have this hat on for the next two days.  Looking forward to the rest of the upcoming talks!