Music psychology

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Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of both psychology and musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and experience, including the processes through which music is perceived, created, responded to, and incorporated into everyday life.[1] Modern music psychology is primarily empirical; its knowledge tends to advance on the basis of interpretations of data collected by systematic observation of and interaction with human participants. Music psychology is a field of research with practical relevance for many areas, including music performance, composition, education, criticism, and therapy, as well as investigations of human aptitude, skill, intelligence, creativity, and social behavior.

Music psychology can shed light on non-psychological aspects of musicology and musical practice. For example, music psychology contributes to music theory by investigating the perception of musical structures such as melody, harmony, tonality, rhythm, meter, and form. Research in music history can benefit from psychologically inspired, systematic study of the history of musical syntax, or from psychological analyses of the personalities of composers in relation to the psychological effect of their music. Ethnomusicology can benefit from psychological approaches to the study of music cognition in different cultures.


Music cognition[edit]

Much work within music psychology seeks to understand the cognitive processes that support musical behaviors, including perception, comprehension, memory, attention, and performance. Originally arising in fields of psychoacoustics and sensation, cognitive theories of how people understand music more recently encompass neuroscience, cognitive science, music theory, music therapy, computer science, psychology, philosophy, and linguistics.[2]

Music cognition focuses on how the mind makes sense of music as it is heard. It also deals with the related question of the cognitive processes involved when musicians perform music. Like language, music is a uniquely human capacity that arguably played a central role in the origins of human cognition.[3] Although the idea of music having an effect on cognition is fairly new, researchers say that musical training increases behavioral performance. This research linking music and cognition is helping scientists to understand the great power music has on our environment today.[4]

Music and emotion[edit]

Research has shown that the pleasurable feelings associated with emotional music are the result of dopamine release in the striatum—the same anatomical areas that underpin the anticipatory and rewarding aspects of drug addiction.[5]

Musical preference[edit]

Consumers' choices in music have been studied as they relate to the Big Five personality traits: openness to experience, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. In general, the plasticity traits (openness to experience and extraversion) affect music preference more than the stability traits (agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness).[6] Gender has been shown to influence preference, with men choosing music for primarily cognitive reasons and women for emotional reasons.[7] Relationships with music preference have also been found with mood[8] and nostalgic association.[9]

Background music[edit]

The study of background music focuses on the impact of music with non-musical tasks, including changes in behavior in the presence of different types, settings, or styles of music.[10] In laboratory settings, music can affect performance on cognitive tasks (memory, attention, and comprehension), both positively and negatively. Used extensively as an advertising aid, music may also affect marketing strategies, ad comprehension, and consumer choices. Background music can influence learning,[11][12] working memory and recall,[13][14] performance while working on tests,[15][16] and attention in cognitive monitoring tasks.[17][18]

Cognitive neuroscience of music[edit]

The primary auditory cortex is one of the main areas associated with superior pitch resolution.

Cognitive neuroscience of music is the scientific study of brain-based mechanisms involved in the cognitive processes underlying music. These behaviours include music listening, performing, composing, reading, writing, and ancillary activities. It also is increasingly concerned with the brain basis for musical aesthetics and musical emotion. Scientists working in this field may have training in cognitive neuroscience, neurology, neuroanatomy, psychology, music theory, computer science, and other allied fields.

Cognitive neuroscience of music is distinguished from related fields such as music cognition and cognitive musicology in its reliance on direct observations of the brain, using such techniques as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), and positron emission tomography (PET).

Cognitive musicology[edit]

Cognitive musicology is a branch of cognitive science concerned with computationally modeling musical knowledge with the goal of understanding both music and cognition.[19]

Cognitive musicology can be differentiated from the fields of music cognition and cognitive neuroscience of music by a difference in methodological emphasis. Cognitive musicology uses computer modeling to study music-related knowledge representation and has roots in artificial intelligence and cognitive science. The use of computer models provides an exacting, interactive medium in which to formulate and test theories.[20]

This interdisciplinary field investigates topics such as the parallels between language and music in the brain. Biologically inspired models of computation are often included in research, such as neural networks and evolutionary programs.[21] This field seeks to model how musical knowledge is represented, stored, perceived, performed, and generated. By using a well-structured computer environment, the systematic structures of these cognitive phenomena can be investigated.[22]


Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including speech and music). It can be further categorized as a branch of psychophysics.


Biomusicology is the study of music from a biological point of view. The term was coined by Nils L. Wallin in 1991.[23] Music is an aspect of the behaviour of the human and possibly other species. As humans are living organisms, the scientific study of music is therefore part of biology, thus the "bio" in "biomusicology."

Biomusicologists are expected to have completed formal studies in both biology or other experimental sciences and musicology including music theory. The three main branches of biomusicology are evolutionary musicology, neuromusicology, and comparative musicology. Evolutionary musicology studies the "origins of music, the question of animal song, selection pressures underlying music evolution", and "music evolution and human evolution". Neuromusicology studies the "brain areas involved in music processing, neural and cognitive processes of musical processing," and "ontogeny of musical capacity and musical skill". Comparative musicology studies the "functions and uses of music, advantages and costs of music making", and "universal features of musical systems and musical behavior."[24]

Research areas[edit]

Music psychologists investigate all aspects of musical behavior by applying methods and knowledge from various realms of psychology. Topics of study include for example:


Music psychology journals include:

Music psychologists also publish in a wide range of mainstream musicology, music theory/analysis, psychology, music education, music therapy, music medicine, and systematic musicology journals. The latter include for example:

Centres of research and teaching[edit]

Music psychology (including music perception, music cognition, and music performance research) is studied and researched at the following universities and music academies:















United Kingdom:

United States:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tan, Siu-Lan; Pfordresher, Peter; Harré, Rom (2010). Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance. New York: Psychology Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-84169-868-7. 
  2. ^ Deutsch, D. (Ed.) (2013). The Psychology of Music, 3rd Edition.  Weblink
  3. ^ Mithen, Steven (2007). The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674025592. 
  4. ^ Moreno, Sylvain (June 2009). "Can Music Influence Language and Cognition?". Contemporary Music Review 28 (3): 23–36. 
  5. ^ Salimpoor, VN; Benovoy, M; Larcher, K; Dagher, A; Zatorre, RJ (2011). "Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music". Nature Neuroscience 14 (2): 257–62. doi:10.1038/nn.2726. PMID 21217764. 
  6. ^ Miranda, Dave; Morizot, Julien & Gaudreau, Patrick (27 March 2012). "Personality Metatraits and Music Preferences in Adolescence: A Pilot Study". International Journal of Adolescence and Youth 15 (4): 289–301. doi:10.1080/02673843.2010.9748036. 
  7. ^ Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas; Swami, Viren & Cermakova, Blanka (22 December 2010). "Individual differences in music consumption are predicted by uses of music and age rather than emotional intelligence, neuroticism, extraversion or openness". Psychology of Music 40 (3): 285–300. doi:10.1177/0305735610381591. 
  8. ^ Vuoskoski, Jonna K.; Eerola, Tuomas (13 July 2011). "Measuring music-induced emotion: A comparison of emotion models, personality biases, and intensity of experiences". Musicae Scientiae 15 (2): 159–173. doi:10.1177/1029864911403367. 
  9. ^ Barret, Frederick S.; Grimm, Kevin J., Robins, Richard W.,Wildschut, Tim, Constantine, Sedikides, Janata, Petr (June 2010). "Music-evoked nostalgia: Affect, memory, and personality". Emotion 10 (3): 390–403. doi:10.1037/a0019006. PMID 20515227. 
  10. ^ Kampfe, J.; Sedlmeier, P.; Renkewitz, F. (8 November 2010). "The impact of background music on adult listeners: A meta-analysis". Psychology of Music 39 (4): 424–448. doi:10.1177/0305735610376261. 
  11. ^ de Groot, Annette M. B. (1 September 2006). "Effects of Stimulus Characteristics and Background Music on Foreign Language Vocabulary Learning and Forgetting". Language Learning 56 (3): 463–506. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9922.2006.00374.x. 
  12. ^ Aheadi, A.; Dixon, P.; Glover, S. (21 July 2009). "A limiting feature of the Mozart effect: listening enhances mental rotation abilities in non-musicians but not musicians". Psychology of Music 38 (1): 107–117. doi:10.1177/0305735609336057. 
  13. ^ Alley, Thomas R.; Greene, Marcie E. (16 October 2008). "The Relative and Perceived Impact of Irrelevant Speech, Vocal Music and Non-vocal Music on Working Memory". Current Psychology 27 (4): 277–289. doi:10.1007/s12144-008-9040-z. 
  14. ^ Cassidy, G.; MacDonald, R. A.R. (1 July 2007). "The effect of background music and background noise on the task performance of introverts and extraverts". Psychology of Music 35 (3): 517–537. doi:10.1177/0305735607076444. 
  15. ^ Patston, Lucy L. M.; Tippett, Lynette J. (1 December 2011). "The Effect of Background Music on Cognitive Performance in Musicians and Nonmusicians". Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal 29 (2): 173–183. doi:10.1525/mp.2011.29.2.173. 
  16. ^ Avila, C.; Furnham, A.; McClelland, A. (9 November 2011). "The influence of distracting familiar vocal music on cognitive performance of introverts and extraverts". Psychology of Music 40 (1): 84–93. doi:10.1177/0305735611422672. 
  17. ^ Olivers, Christian N.L.; Nieuwenhuis, Sander (1 April 2005). "The Beneficial Effect of Concurrent Task-Irrelevant Mental Activity on Temporal Attention". Psychological Science 16 (4): 265–269. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.01526.x. 
  18. ^ Beanland, Vanessa; Allen, Rosemary A.; Pammer, Kristen (1 December 2011). "Attending to music decreases inattentional blindness". Consciousness and Cognition 20 (4): 1282–1292. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2011.04.009. 
  19. ^ Laske, Otto (1999). Navigating New Musical Horizons (Contributions to the Study of Music and Dance). Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-30632-7. 
  20. ^ Laske, O. (1999). AI and music: A cornerstone of cognitive musicology. In M. Balaban, K. Ebcioglu, & O. Laske (Eds.), Understanding music with ai: Perspectives on music cognition. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
  21. ^ Graci, C. (2009-2010) A brief tour of the learning sciences featuring a cognitive tool for investigating melodic phenomena. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 38(2), 181-211.
  22. ^ Hamman, M., 1999. "Structure as Performance: Cognitive Musicology and the Objectification of Procedure," in Otto Laske: Navigating New Musical Horizons, ed. J. Tabor. New York: Greenwood Press.
  23. ^ Wallin, N. L. (1991): Biomusicology: Neurophysiological, Neuropsychological and Evolutionary Perspectives on the Origins and Purposes of Music, Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press.
  24. ^ Wallin, Nils L./Björn Merker/Steven Brown (1999): "An Introduction to Evolutionary Musicology." In: Wallin, Nils L./Björn Merker/Steven Brown (Eds., 1999): The Origins of Music, pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-262-23206-5.
  25. ^ Platz, F.; Kopiez, R. (September 2012). "When the Eye Listens: A Meta-analysis of How Audio-visual Presentation Enhances the Appreciation of Music Performance". Music Perception 30 (1): 71–83. doi:10.1525/mp.2012.30.1.71. 
  26. ^ "Dt. Gesellsch. f. Musikpsychologie" (in German). Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  27. ^ "Journal of Mathematics and Music". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  28. ^ "Macquarie University; Music, Sound and Performance Lab". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  29. ^ "Melbourne University; Music, Music, Mind and Wellbeing Initiative". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  30. ^ "University of Western Sydney; The MARCS Institute". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  31. ^ "University of Graz; Centre for Systematic Musicology". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  32. ^ "University of Klagenfurt; Cognitive Psychology Unit". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  33. ^ "Ghent University; Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  34. ^ "McGill University; CIRMMT". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  35. ^ "University of Toronto; MaHRC". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  36. ^ "Queens University; Music Cognition Lab". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  37. ^ "University of PEI; Auditory Perception and Music Cognition Research and Training Laboratory". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  38. ^ "Ryerson University; SMART Lab". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  39. ^ "McMaster University; MIMM". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  40. ^ "BRAMS - International Laboratory for Brain, Music, and Sound Research". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  41. ^ "University of Montreal; Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  42. ^ "University of Western Ontario; Music and Neuroscience Lab". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  43. ^ "University of Jyväskylä, Finnish Centre of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  44. ^ "Claude Bernard University Lyon 1; CAP,". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  45. ^ "HMTMH; Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine". Retrieved 9 April 2014. 
  46. ^ "University of Amsterdam; Music Cognition Group". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  47. ^ "FC University of Music; Unit of Psychology of Music". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  48. ^ "Royal Institute of Technology, Speech, Music and Hearing". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  49. ^ "Cambridge University; Centre for Music and Science". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  50. ^ "Institute of Education; International Music Education Research Centre". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  51. ^ "Keele University; Centre for Psychological Research". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  52. ^ "University of Leeds; ICSRiM". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  53. ^ "University of Oxford; Psychology of Music". Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  54. ^ "University of Roehampton; Applied Music Research Centre". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  55. ^ "University of Leicester; Social and Applied Psychology Group". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  56. ^ "Royal College of Music; Centre for Performance Science". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  57. ^ "Royal Northern College of Music; Centre for Music Performance Research". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  58. ^ "Sheffield University; Department of Music, Psychology of Music Research". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  59. ^ "University of Edinburgh; Music and the Human Sciences". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  60. ^ "Goldsmiths; Music, Mind and Brain". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  61. ^ "Stanford University; Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  62. ^ "Ohio State University; Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  63. ^ "University of Arkansas; Music Cognition Lab". Retrieved 6 April 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

Encyclopedia entries[edit]

  • Palmer, Caroline & Melissa K. Jungers (2003): Music Cognition. In: Lynn Nadel: Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, Vol. 3, London: Nature Publishing Group, pp. 155–158.

Introductory reading[edit]

Intermediate reading[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

External links[edit]