Musicality correlates with sociability and emotionality in Williams Syndrome

(Ng R, Lai P, Levitin D, Bellugi U)

From the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, USA

Williams Syndrome (WS) is a neurogenetic developmental disorder characterized by peaks and valleys of cognitive abilities. One peak that has been understudied is the affinity that many individuals with WS have toward music. It remains unknown whether their high levels of musical interest, skill and expressivity are related to their sociable personality or their verbal intelligence. Authors examined the relationships between musicality (musical interest, creativity and expressivity), sociability (social-emotionality, social approach) and language comprehension in WS and typically developing (TD) controls. Findings suggest that emotion-expressivity through music in WS may be linked to their sensitivity and responsivity to emotions of others, whereas general interest in music may be related to greater linguistic capacity in TD individuals. Musicality and sociability may be more closely related in WS relative than in typical development; implications for future interventions for this neurodevelopmental condition will be discussed.


Full PDF in English

In Italiano –

La Sindrome di Williams (WS) è un problema dello sviluppo neurologico caratterizzato da punti di forza e di debolezza nelle abilità cognitive. Una qualità che è stata poco studiata è l’affinità elettiva che molti soggetti con WS hanno verso la musica. Non è chiaro se l’alto livello di interesse musicale, di capacità esecutiva e di espressività sia correlato alla loro personalità sociale o alla loro intelligenza verbale. In questo studio gli autori hanno esaminato la relazione tra la musicalità (interesse musicale, creatività ed espressività), l’attitudine sociale (emotività sociale, approccio sociale) e la comprensione del linguaggio in bambini affetti da WS e in bambini con sviluppo neurologico tipico (TD). I risultati suggeriscono che l’espressività delle emozioni attraverso la musica nei bambini con WS potrebbe essere legata alla loro sensibilità nei confronti delle emozioni altrui, mentre l’interesse generico nella musica potrebbe essere dovuto a una maggiore capacità linguistica nei bambini con sviluppo tipico (TD). La musicalità e l’attitudine sociale potrebbero essere più affini nei soggetti WS piuttosto che nei soggetti TD. Gli Autori discutono i risultati nell’ottica di possibili interventi educativi per i soggetti con WS.

what should we do with our brain – a metaphorical critique

“The brain has always been described by means of technological metaphors.” [1]  neural pathways

One of the first handlings of this idiom occurred in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics: “Metaphor is the transference of a name from the object to which it has a natural application…” (Aristotle, Poetics, 21). More recently, individuals such as I.A. Richards, Kenneth Burke, and Max Black have made consequential advances in the field of metaphorical criticism, enabling its use to aid heavily in ornamentation and decoration, as structuring principle and discovery and description of the truth.[2]

According to Richards, all thought is metaphoric because when individuals attribute meaning, they are “simply seeing in one context an aspect similar to one [they] encountered in an earlier context.”[3] Though the work of theorists including Michael Osborn and Robert L. Ivie, we have a better understanding of how language relates us to reality, and how we as humans constitute reality through our use of symbols. When we process symbols to better understand reality, we are often using the metaphor. Phenomenological anomalies become accessible to us through the development of a physical materialism that often comes to life via symbols. When we attribute names or symbols to these phenomena, we are using the metaphor.

Along with the above, a number of others have stressed the importance of the metaphor. Nietzsche argued that it is simply the way in which we encounter the world: “A nerve-stimulus, first transformed into percept! First metaphor! The percept again copied into a sound! Second metaphor! And each time he leaps completely out of one sphere right into the midst of an entirely different one.”[4] In these viewpoints, metaphor occurs prior to and generates the discovery of ideas.

Foss explains a great example of this usage in Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice via the metaphor that “time is money.” By using terminology such as “I’ve invested a lot of time in someone,” “You need to budget your time” and “this gadget will save you time” we begin to equate time through a financial viewpoint; it now shares its level of worth with money. In metaphoric criticism, Max Black has developed an influential method known as interaction theory which juxtaposes two terms in the metaphor generally regarded to belong to two differing classes of experience. The first term is called the tenor, principal subject, or focus, while the second term is called the vehicle, secondary subject, or frame. For example, “The brain is a machine” is a metaphor for which brain is the tenor, and machine is the frame. The process from there then is to discriminate what traits are commonplace by the tenor and vehicle, and form a type of discerning argument. As the associated characteristics of the tenor and vehicle interact, some are accentuated while others are contained. As one goes through this progression of deconstructing tenor and vehicle of the metaphor, it becomes apparent that the metaphor serves an argumentative purpose: metaphor constitutes argument.[5]

To choose a common metaphor and artifact to further describe this process, the human brain has been the target of metaphoric assignments for quite some time: mirror, projector, computer, economy. (Tabbi, 1998) Others have termed the brain central telephone exchange, machine, and even government. While some illustrations appear more accurate than others, there are those who feel as a society that we’ve sorely missed the mark. In Catherine Malabou’s innovative work What Should We Do with Our Brain? (2008) she issues the challenge of deconstructing what we’ve always thought of our brains, and bestows an even greater one: what should we use it for?

Malabou begins the work by repetitiously stating “Our brain is plastic, and we do not know it.” The concept of consciousness is paramount to her: she not only calls attention to the many cities at work neurologically, but the fact that we do not know it. From “know thyself” forward, awareness has been the crux of academic and technological progress. Malabou’s critique of our neuronal dogma is an attempt not only to break away from the ideological presuppositions the field of neuroscience currently includes, but a call to become conscious of them-and of ourselves.

The first method of metaphoric criticism we may employ includes simply dissecting the metaphor. How does it function? In which way is Malabou trying to shake the current opinion of its role? Previously (as mentioned above) common symbols used for the brain include computer, central telephone exchange and machine. However, with Malabou’s concept of plasticity, the rigidity of these allegories will no longer suffice. Machines, computers and central telephone exchanges have a control center; an unyielding and stiff method of prescribing action and processing information. Plasticity is rigidity’s direct anonym, and as we have seen that metaphor not only tells a story but constitutes an argument, new metaphors must come into play. Our brains are no longer known to be entirely genetically determined, static or even simply flexible. “Plasticity, in effect, is not flexibility. Let us not forget that plasticity is a mechanism for adapting, while flexibility is a mechanism for submitting.”[6]  We must ascertain a new meaning, and this is Malabou’s challenge. She must use a metaphoric criticism to tear down the current views and instill the new.

We have now seen how the tenor and vehicle of “brain as machine” will no longer suffice. Let’s take a look at what Malabou uses as alternative: brain as plastic. Taken from the Greek plassein, to mold, plasticity has two basic definitions: one is to receive form, and one is to give form. “Plasticity in the nervous system means an alteration in structure or function brought about by development, experience or injury.”[7]Instead of mindlessly accumulating new metaphors for our brain, Malabou relies on the fact that we are the minds who make the metaphors, and sets out to explain just why the old metaphoric arguments won’t work. She offers perspective and a choice to the audience, just as Foss speaks of in Rhetorical Criticism, “If the audience finds the associated characteristics acceptable and sees the appropriateness of linking the two systems of characteristics, the audience accepts the argument.” In the context of modern day capitalism, Malabou creates a fantastic charge and call to consciousness, taking aide from European metaphysics, political engagement and neuroscience. By changing the terms (linguistically, semantically and literally) of the game, Malabou effectively provides a metaphoric critique to the prevailing comprehension of the function of the human brain.

In conclusion, a metaphoric criticism is best employed here simply because it is what the author employs herself. As Foss further states in Rhetorical Criticism, “Whatever metaphor is used to label and experience a phenomenon, then, suggests evaluations of it and appropriate behavior in response.” The old metaphors used suggest a worldview of a time passed, before the age of functional and real-time neurological imaging. The new formation of the model of our brain must be in line with the modern self: dynamic, transforming and revolutionary. We can no longer think of our brains, our neuronal selves, as but flexible and anonymous; as machine. We must affirm our capacity for change and confess our plasticity: evolutionary, adaptive, explosive. We must no longer consent to depression via disaffiliation; to be “blind to our own cinema.” Our brains tell us a story-whether we choose to listen or not. Karl Marx once stated “Humans make their own history, but they do not know that they make it.” As Malabou so eloquently proves throughout her work that a simple metaphor does not suffice and thus hinders a proper understanding for the plastic brain, she relies on concepts such as ecological, self-creating and emancipatory instead. Plasticity cannot be domesticated. The brain is ever-changing; so then must our conception of it be also.

“…At bottom, neuronal man has not known how to speak of himself. It is time to free his speech.”

-Catherine Malabou

[1] (Jeannerod, 2004).

[2] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 359

[3] Ibid, p. 359

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Falsity in their Ultramoral Sense,” in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy, trans. Maximilian A. Mugge, II. New York: Macmillan, 1911., p. 178

[5] Foss, Sonja K. Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, 2nd Ed. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996., p. 361

[6] Marc Jeannerod, 2004.

[7] See the entry “Plasticity in the Nervous System,” in The Oxford Companion to the Mind, ed. Richard L. Gregory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 623.

CASBS Stanford Welcomes 2013-2014 Fellows and Visiting Scholars



Stanford, CA: September 12, 2013 – The Center for the Advanced Study of
Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University today welcomed the 35
Fellows and eight visiting scholars who make up the Class of 2014.

Chosen through a rigorous selection process, the group represents some of
academia’s most innovative scholarship across these behavioral sciences:
anthropology, communication, economics, education, history, law, linguistics,
philosophy, political science, public health, psychiatry, psychology, science &
technology, and sociology. The scholars hail from 21 universities in the United
States, as well as from universities in Canada, England, and Sweden.
Fellows pursue their own research for the full academic year while contributing
to the CASBS community through weekly seminars, occasional public lectures,
and informal conversations over daily lunch.

Informal interaction, in particular, fosters the cross-pollination of ideas across

disparate fields of study, said CASBS Director Iris Litt, MD, herself a Fellow
(1985). “Fellows typically report an expansion in their thinking, and sometimes
even a new approach to their research,” she said. “The launch of the field of
behavioral economics, attributed in large measure to our own Daniel
Kahneman, is an excellent example of this.” Kahneman, a Fellow in psychology
(1978) received the Nobel prize in economic science in 2002.

During their CASBS year, Fellows address some of the most pressing problems

of our day, seeking insight and innovation that will advance humanity at all
levels – whether on the international stage, the workplace, or within the
individual psyche. Among planned areas of study for members of this year’s
class:• the notion of peoplehood and its implications in the Israel/Palestine conflict;

• the manufacture of rayon – a textile marketed as ‘green,’ yet highly
dangerous to the people who make it and the environment;
• the economics of sexual orientation;
• psychobiological triggers of mania in an individual;
• the development of creativity in adolescence;
• implications of copyright law and emerging technologies;
• where data and behavior intersect.
About the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences
Since its founding in 1954, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral
Sciences at Stanford University has brought together distinguished scholars in
the behavioral sciences to confront societal problems worldwide. The Center is
honored to count among its Fellows 22 Nobel laureates, 14 Pulitzer Prize
winners, and 44 MacArthur Fellows, in addition to hundreds of members of the
National Academies.
Fellows have helped develop new policies and practices in fields as diverse as
medicine, education, electoral politics, crime prevention, and international
development. And they’ve played key roles in starting new interdisciplinary
fields such as behavioral economics.
For ongoing news and events about CASBS, please visit and follow on Twitter, @CASBSStanford .


Here are the 2013-2014 Fellows, listed by field of study:
• Ilana Gershon, Indiana University
During her time at the Center, cultural anthropologist Ilana Gershon is
studying how people agree upon ethical standards when using new
media in the course of hiring and firing. Her previous work explored why
Samoan migrants experience different ways of being culture-bearers in
New Zealand and the United States.
• Lawrence Rosen, Princeton University
Anthropology Fellow Lawrence Rosen will work on his latest book, Drawn
From Memory: Arab Lives Unremembered, a study of the intellectual lives
of four ordinary Moroccans he has known many years. It analyzes the
concept of memory in settings of the history, rural and urban
development, religious, and ethnic relationships of the country.Communication
• Byron Reeves, Stanford University
In his scholarship, Byron Reeves balances academic pursuit and
business entrepreneurship. One area of focus is psychological processing
of media in the areas of attention, emotions, learning, and physiological
responses. He is working on the application of multi-player game
technology to behavior change and the conduct of serious work.
• Natalia Roudakova, University of California, San Diego
Natalia Roudakova’s work bridges cultural anthropology to political
communication and comparative media studies. She notes, “Although
there is some tradition of ethnography in journalism studies,
anthropologists have not played much of a role in the field of political
communication.” Her research addresses that gap.

• Ali Ahmed, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study
During his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral
Sciences, economist Ali Ahmed will focus on addressing research
questions related to economics of sexual orientation. While most of his
research is in the field of economics of discrimination, he also studies
behavioral economics, labor economics, and economics of religion.
• Petra Moser, Stanford University
Returning Fellow Petra Moser’s research at CASBS will examine the
effects of copyright policies: Do stronger copyright terms increase the
price of books? And how do stronger copyright terms influence diffusion?

• Sarah Freedman, University of California, Berkeley
Returning Fellow Sarah Freedman will conduct data analysis and write
about a five-year research project, The Development of Ethical Civic Actors
in Divided Societies: Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the United States.
Of her work she says, “I am interested in linguistic analyses that provide
windows into how varied students think about civic participation.”

• Ethan M. Pollock, Brown University
Ethan Pollock’s current research project tells the history of the Russian
bathhouse to gain new perspectives on Russian identity, traditional and
modern notions of health & hygiene, and the evolution of ideas about
community and sociability. (Under contract, Oxford University Press.)• Bruce J. Schulman, Boston University
Bruce J. Schulman’s CASBS project, “‘Are We A Nation?’: The Birth of
the Modern United States,” explores the transformation of American
nationhood between 1896 and 1929–the era in which the United States
emerged as a world power, international economic leader, and reservoir
for displaced persons from around the globe.
• Peter Stansky, Stanford University
Peter Stansky’s scholarly aim is to better understand Britain, mostly in
the areas where culture, literature, art, and politics meet, as in his
collection of essays, From William Morris to Sergeant Pepper. His current
project is a study of Edward Upward, the least-known member of the
group who gathered around W. H. Auden.

• Molly S. Van Houweling, University of California, Berkeley
Molly Van Houweling’s research focuses on copyright law’s implications
for new information technologies, and vice versa. One strand of her
research explores how legal rules, designed to regulate sophisticated
commercial interests, affect unsophisticated individuals empowered by
information technology. She is currently working on a book, tentatively
entitled Property’s Intellect.

• Roger Levy, University of California, San Diego
Through study at the intersection of linguistics, cognitive science, and
game theory, Roger Levy hopes his work will help us better understand
how speakers and listeners are able to reason about each other to
achieve effective communication. He will also study the language of
children to better understand how language learning takes place.
• Judith Tonhauser, Ohio State University
Judith Tonhauser’s project, Content and context in the study of meaning
variation, is based on the idea that human languages may differ in their
morphological inventories and syntactic structures, but nevertheless
convey comparable meanings.

• John M. Doris, Washington University
John M. Doris works at the intersection of psychology, cognitive science,
and philosophical ethics. He is finishing work on a new book, Talking to
Our Selves: Reflection, Skepticism, and Agency, and beginning work on a collection of his papers, Character Trouble: Undisciplined Essays on
Persons and Circumstance, both to appear with Oxford University Press.
• Sam Fleischacker, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sam Fleischacker plans to use his time at CASBS to examine a series of
philosophical issues raised by the Israel/Palestine conflict. He’s
particularly interested in the notion of peoplehood, the link (if any)
between peoplehood and territory, and the question of whether states
should represent or foster a people’s identity.

Political Science
• Alison Renteln, University of Southern California
Alison Renteln’s research project focuses on various public policy
incentives for civic engagement. “As part of this study, I will undertake
comparative analyses of Good and Bad Samaritan laws and mandatory
voting systems,” she says. “I am particularly interested in crossdisciplinary scholarship on empathy as it relates to political participation
and humanitarian assistance.”
• Robert Van Houweling, University of California, Berkeley
Robert Van Houweling plans to complete a book about political
repositioning. It focuses on how voters react when politicians change
their policy positions, and in turn, considers the impact voters’ reactions
have on candidate strategies. He has on-the-ground experience as well,
having served as a legislative assistant to Senator Thomas Daschle.
• Michael D. Ward, Duke University
Political scientist Michael D. Ward’s primary interests are in
international relations (spanning democratization, globalization,
international commerce, military spending, as well as international
conflict and cooperation), political geography, as well as mathematical
and statistical methods.
• Erik Wibbels, Duke University
Political scientist Erik Wibbels’s CASBS project aims to develop
innovative approaches to understand why the quality of governance
varies across the geography of countries—why, for instance, central
authorities in places like Afghanistan and Mexico are able to govern some
parts of their countries but not others.

• Albert Rothenberg, Harvard University
Returning Fellow Albert Rothenberg is studying the development of
creativity and creative thinking during adolescence. It’s an extension of

Studies in the Creative Process, a project where he serves as principal
investigator and which has carried out research on creativity in
literature, art, psychotherapy, and science.

• David Dunning, Cornell University
While at CASBS, experimental psychologist David Dunning plans to work
on a book examining the personal to societal implications of
ignorance. He says he is particularly interested in “the fact that people
largely fail to know where their knowledge and expertise end – and their
ignorance begins.”
• Sheri L. Johnson, University of California, Berkeley
Sheri Johnson’s research focus during her CASBS year is
psychobiological triggers of mania. “I like that my work bridges many
different paradigms to help understand why people with bipolar disorder
develop symptoms on a given day,” she says. “I also really love the
process of working with collaborators and with students to develop
• Lee Jussim, Rutgers University
Lee Jussim’s research looks at the relationships between social
perception and social reality. His primary interests are interpersonal
processes, judgment and decision-making, prejudice and stereotyping,
self and identity, and social cognition.
• Jon A. Krosnick, Stanford University
Returning Fellow and social psychologist Jon Krosnick’s top priority for
his Fellowship year is to finish his book reviewing 100 years of research
on how to design questionnaires optimally. He researches attitude
formation, change, and survey research methods. For 15 years, he has
researched the American public’s views of global warming.
• Nilam Ram, Penn State University
Nilam Ram plans to write about how real-time assessments and analytics
can empower people to use data about their own behavioral patterns in
order to make changes that will help them have a better life. These
“personalized interventions … can be deployed at population scale,” he
• Simine Vazire, Washington University
While at CASBS, Simine Vazire will work on research related to selfknowledge, exploring these questions: How well do we know ourselves?
How can we improve self-knowledge? And what are the consequences of
poor self-knowledge? She will also be working on research methodology:

Public Health
• Paul Blanc, University of California, San Francisco
Paul Blanc continues his research on the viscose rayon industry
and occupational disease. He says the material is linked to widespread,
often lethal disease among workers and environmental degradation.
Yet, “Rayon is even marketed as a renewable green product,” he says,
“because carbon disulfide is mixed with cellulose, a renewable resource.”
• Merwyn (Mitch) Greenlick, Oregon Health and Science
Returning Fellow Mitch Greenlick will work on a book on the Oregon
Legislature. From the time of his swearing-in, he recorded his reactions
to the Legislature, forming a body of work spanning six legislative
sessions; over time, perspective emerges from that of a minority
freshman to that of a senior committee chair in the majority.
• Heather Munroe-Blum, McGill University
Heather Munroe-Blum will focus on how public policy in science and
education contribute to a nation’s social and economic success within
the larger global context – with particular attention to young people. It’s
a natural extension of her work advising governments on the role that
progressive, evidence-based public policy plays in enriching society and
international competitiveness.
Science and Technology Studies
• Steve Woolgar, Oxford University
Sociologist Steve Woolgar’s main current research projects include
mundane governance, the social dynamics of provocation, and the utility
of radical academic ideas for business and management. He is interested
in technology and organizational change, branding and brand
development, the rise of ethics, and visualization and evidence in

• Elizabeth Bruch, University of MichiganElizabeth Bruch plans to explore mate search strategies and mate choice
behavior on online dating sites. She writes, “One central focus for me is
how search strategies and contact behavior differs across dating markets
… and also how people learn who is in their ‘league’ based on their
interactions on the site.”
• Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Cynthia Fuchs Epstein returns to the Center for a third fellowship to
work on the upcoming book, The Difficulty of Doing Good: Law Students’
Commitment to Careers in the Public Interest. Her work looks at the use of
categories and distinctions in social life, with a focus on their impact on
women and minorities.
• Barbara Heyns, New York University
Returning Fellow Barbara Heyns studies the sociology of education,
social stratification, sociology of childhood, social policy, adolescence and
the life cycle, and quantitative methodology.
• Ching Kwan Lee, University of California, Los Angeles
In research for her upcoming book, Ching Kwan Lee poses the question,
“what is the peculiarity of Chinese capital in Africa?” In order to identify
what is Chinese (not just capitalist), she compares Chinese and nonChinese foreign investors in two core economic sectors in Zambia:
copper mining and construction.
• Elaine Wethington, Cornell University
Medical sociologist Elaine Wethington plans to work on a book about the
potential for translational sociology, focusing on the sociology of mental
health and illness and the life course. Her research interests are in the
areas of stress, protective mechanisms of social support, aging and the
life course, and translational research methods.

Complete bios of each Fellow, along with links to their work, may be viewed
Visiting scholars and practitioners in the Class of 2013-2014 include
• Physicist, applied mathematician and computer scientist Eric Bonabeau
of Icosystem Corporation,
• Retired publisher, author, and journalist Howard M. Epstein, is working
on Death or Survival: The Battle for the Lives of French Jewish Children in
World War II.
• Poet, political consultant, and computer scientist Tung-Hui Hu is a
scholar of new media.
• Ellen Konar is a social organizational psychologist-turnedentrepreneurial data scientist and industry executive.

Literary agent and retired publisher Donald Lamm serves as editorial
consultant to this year’s class. He is particularly interested in the
survival of the book in an age of information overload.
• Arnold Milstein, MD will focus on formulating testable methods to
increase the psychological nuance of innovations in care delivery
designed to lower healthcare spending.
• Professor and artist Julia Rothenberg looks forward to pursuing her art
“in the gorgeous and haunting landscapes of Stanford and the hills and
meadows of CASBS.”
• Jane A. Shaw, the dean of Grace Cathedral, is writing about renewed
interest in mysticism in the US and UK; separately she is working on a
collaboration with actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith.
• Sociologist Anna Sparrman is researching the intertwinement of children,
childhood, material culture, sexuality, and consumption from a
contemporary, everyday perspective.
• Paul Wise, MD, is investigating U.S. and international child health policy,
particularly the provision of technical innovation in resource-poor areas of the world.

All of Us Are Searching for an Open Arm: The Uprising of Sad Music in the Media

Ever since the great tearjerker of ’11, the media has seemingly at last seen fit to begin a shift in focus toward a more somber melody. With a growing spotlight on artists such as Adele, Muse and Interpol to Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus, songwriters would seem, in some cases, to be enjoying a more visible success specifically due to the inclusion of the melancholy than in recent years. For some, largely gone are the days of the I, IV, V and in are the repeated inclusion of the appoggiaturas and resolving minors. 

John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology from my alma mater (Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London) states it like this: “Your hair’s standing up on end, shivers going down your spine, a lump coming into your throat, even tears running down your eyes.” And how is this? These effects are not solely felt, they are physiological responses to a specific perception-but do we even know what we’re perceiving? Just yesterday, Research Digest brought attention to a bit of qualitative research being done by Annemieke Van den Tol and Jane Edwards (University of Limerick) regarding the negative experiences of 65 individuals, and the music they chose to listen to. The research then would obviously fall into two separate themes or categories-the strategy adopted in music selection, and the function the music serves.

Without regurgitating the large amount of insight that many other researchers have almost simultaneously come across, there are definitely a few reoccurring themes in explanation of why people gravitate toward sad music:

  • Distancing (the act of distancing oneself from a sad experience via listening to sad music)
  • Desire for connection (in order to connect life events and current mood with a choice in music)
  • Trigger (in order to connect with an experience or person lost via nostalgia and emotive progressions)
  • “As The Spirit Wanes The Form Appears” (my personal favorite, exhibiting belief that when the spirit is most tried and tested, one is able to more fully come to grips with the state of things around and within them, and reach out for either a  perceived or real hope)
  • Common humanity (in order to feel part of a greater puzzle-instead of feeling isolated and alone, one may feel they are being reached out to via the lyricism or voice of the music and are thus part of a “larger human experience”)
  • Control (although sad music obviously often evokes melancholy emotions, they would seem to be separate from reality. These sad events are not actually happening in real-time, not unlike when we read sad fiction. We are able to experience sadness without any real threat to our safety, mental state or well being. Richard Kunert has written a great post on precisely this over at Brain’s Idea which walks through this a bit more in depth. Richard states:

Prolactin is a hormone associated with feelings of tranquillity, calmness, well-being, or consolation. Huron (2011) suggests that the body uses it to counteract grief and thus avoid descending into an uncontrollably depressive episode. Such hormonal counter-measures to negative environmental inputs are also found for physical pain. Physical pain is reduced by endorphins. Such a bodily mechanism can be exploited – as when heroin addicts fool the brain’s response to pain. Huron (2011) proposes that sad music can activate the counter-measures to actual sadness – i.e. prolactin production – without any real sadness being present. One gets the hormone’s consoling effect without the sadness and might thus actually enjoy it. (Kunert, 2012).


I’d like to briefly focus on the last theme of control: what does this say for people who suffer from mental illness, post traumatic stress or major trauma? These circumstances largely represent a loss of control for the subject. This loss of control is often to blame for irrational and impulsive behaviors. Suicide, acts of self-inflicted harm and many crimes of passion are the ultimate act and statement of control-which is the very override we’re trying to buy time against in the amygdala when thinking in terms of behavioral manipulation.

My friend and fellow music psychology comrade Kelty Walker put it this way: “Same goes for any emotion, song, genre, movie, book, person, car, job, and yes, belief system. Anything that elicits a response in the amygdala can be used to condition ourselves into our desired state. Now, if only we were more widely aware of it…”


In the spirit of “sad” music and emotional/physiological response, I’m enclosing one of the most powerful songs (and experiences) of my life. There are few songs which elicit the type of response this work is capable of in me-in any situation, mindset or setting. Come 3:15, the response is quite Pavlovian.

Neuroscientist David Sulzer turns brain waves into music

Thanks so much to Vicky Williamson for bringing this to my attention. More and more these days are professors of neuroscience and music finding ways to tap into the unknown capabilities of what we can accomplish not just psychologically, but neurologically with music. Like so many other projects happening at present, I found this fascinating:

Columbia neurophysiologist David Sulzer took his first piano lessons at the age of 11 and was playing his violin and guitar in bars by age 15. Later he gained a national following as a founder of the Soldier String Quartet and the Thai Elephant Orchestra—an actual orchestra of elephants in northern Thailand—and for playing with the likes of Bo Diddley, the Velvet Underground’s John Cale and the jazz great Tony Williams.

It was only after arriving at Columbia, however, that the musician-turned-research-scientist embarked on perhaps his most exotic musical venture—using a computer to translate the spontaneous patterns of his brain waves into music.

With the help of Brad Garton, director of Columbia’s Computer Music Center, Sulzer has performed his avant-garde brain wave music in solo recitals and with musical ensembles.

Last spring, Sulzer presented a piece entitled Reading Stephen Colbert at a conference in New York City sponsored by Columbia and the Paris-based IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique), a global center of musical research.

Sulzer, a professor in the departments of Psychiatry, Neurology and Pharmacology, wore electrodes attached to his scalp to measure voltage fluctuations in his brain as he sat in a chair reading a book by the comedian. Those fluctuations were fed into a computer program created by Garton, which transformed them into musical notes. “I tried to forget I was in front of people and they could see my brain waves on a screen and listen to the music as I read the book,” says Sulzer. “Luckily, the book was funny and I laughed, which changed the music.”

The Brainwave Music Project grew out of an invitation in 2008 from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York to lecture on how the brain interprets rhythm. Sulzer, whose main research focus is the chemical transmission of brain signals and the neuroscience of neurological and psychiatric disorders, had heard about measurement of brain waves of drummers playing together using electroencephalography (EEG), a technique that measures electrical activity in the brain. The longer the drummers jammed, the more their brain waves began to synch up. Why not see if the musicians could use their own brain waves to make new music together?

Sulzer asked Garton, who had spent his younger years in New York’s downtown music scene and had followed the neuroscientist’s previous career with the Soldier String Quartet, if he knew a graduate student who might be interested in helping him develop software for his lecture. Garton volunteered to do it himself.  “I knew the digital synthesis and audio side of things, he had the knowledge of neurotechnology and brain waves—it was the perfect match,” Garton says.

When brain cells are active, they communicate with the cells around them by emitting electrical spikes that vary in frequency and amplitude. A single sensory stimulus will cause a series of brain cells to fire, which will excite the cells around them and lead to a chain reaction of cell firings that ripple through the brain like the waves that ripple out from a pebble tossed into a pond.

“I take the signals, digitize them and then turn them into signals in the computer that control the sound,” Garton says. “A project where you can make sound just by thinking about it is pretty cool. It’s great fun.”

Garton and Sulzer have tried a number of ways to make music from these waves. Sometimes they program specific musical notes to play every time the EEG sensors detect brain cells firing at specific frequencies or amplitudes. Other times, they assign an array of prerecorded sounds or notes to specific neural patterns.

Sulzer cautions against taking the project too seriously. It’s more of a “didactic tool,” he says, that he usually pairs with his pop science lectures on brainwaves and brain function or with Garton’s on computerized music.

“Part of it is didactic, part of it is satirical,” Sulzer says. “Sometimes I’m making fun of attitudes towards music. For instance, I’ll say ‘this shows you can be a conscious composer’ because you can try to manipulate brain waves. Or you can be an unconscious composer. Reading Stephen Colbert is an example of that.” Sulzer is skeptical the technique will ever result in better music than that which the brain is already capable of producing through the tongue and fingers.

“Trying to play music using brain waves is like trying to play the piano using boxing gloves,” he says. “The level of detail that the current brain scanning technology can pick up is simply too crude.”

The full article may be found at:

Music training for the development of speech segmentation

The latest from my friends at Neuromusic News (ed. by Fondazione Mariani).

Contributors: Luisa Lopez, Giuliano Avanzini, Maria Majno and Barbara Bernardini.

This week’s digest regarding music and speech includes much of the same of what we already know: the implications of musical exposure in children with speech perception issues grow greater by the day. This study specifically compares the use of music as opposed to the use of art in 8 year old children.

Cereb Cortex 2012 Jul 10

Music training for the development of speech segmentation

François C, Chobert J, Besson M, Schön D
Institut de neurosciences des systèmes, INSERM and Aix-Marseille University, Marseille, France

The role of music training in fostering brain plasticity and developing high cognitive skills, notably linguistic abilities, is of great interest from both a scientific and a societal perspective. Here, we report results of a longitudinal study over 2 years using both behavioral and electrophysiological measures and a test-training-retest procedure to examine the influence of music training on speech segmentation in 8-year-old children. Children were pseudo-randomly assigned to either music or painting training and were tested on their ability to extract meaningless words from a continuous flow of nonsense syllables. While no between-group differences were found before training, both behavioral and electrophysiological measures showed improved speech segmentation skills across testing sessions for the music group only. These results show that music training directly causes facilitation in speech segmentation, thereby pointing to the importance of music for speech perception and more generally for children’s language development. Finally these results have strong implications for promoting the development of music-based remediation strategies for children with language-based learning impairments.

And for our Italian friends:

Il ruolo del training musicale nel promuovere la plasticità cerebrale e lo sviluppo di capacità cognitive linguistiche è di grande interesse sia dal punto di vista scientifico sia sociale. In questo studio, gli Autori riportano i risultati di uno studio longitudinale, durato oltre due anni, effettuato usando sia misure elettrofisiologiche sia comportamentali per verificare l’influenza del training musicale sulla segmentazione del linguaggio in bambini di 8 anni. I bambini sono stati assegnati con pseudo-randomizzazione a due gruppi di studio, uno sottoposto a training musicale, l’altro a lezioni di pittura, e testati periodicamente sulla capacità di estrarre parole senza significato da un flusso continuo di sillabe di un linguaggio artificiale. Le valutazioni dimostrano che solo i bambini esposti a training musicale aumentano la capacità di segmentazione del linguaggio, suggerendo l’importanza fondamentale del training musicale per lo sviluppo linguistico. Questi risultati hanno forti implicazioni nel promuovere l’elaborazione di strategie basate sul training musicale per aiutare i bambini con disturbi di apprendimento su base

The “Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker” and my cover of Adele

In futile effort of keeping up with the Joneses of pop culture and music psychology, consider this my token post on Adele. Why?

 A) She’s fabulous

B) She just won big at the Grammys

C) WSJ Online has just released a major post largely on her hit Someone Like You entitled Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker 

D) I have covered her countless times, and her piano songs are a part of my teaching repertoire

In terms of the post WSJ released, I strongly recommend giving it a good read. The research was originally conducted at McGill, a university widely celebrated for their Music Perception and Cognition program, and home to celebrity writer Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music. In light of Adele’s recent superstardom and the widening knowledge and appreciation of music psychology as a whole, I’d wager this article is going to get some serious attention. While I wholeheartedly agree with it’s main premise, I find something deeply awry here, and it is found the in subtitle itself:

Why does Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ make everyone cry? Science has found the formula.

As a twenty-something young woman who has not only sung since age three, composed angsty love ballads on the piano for years but also been left by a lover in the worst way, I love Adele. Let me be clear on this: I love Adele. Someone Like You and Hometown Glory (as well as Rollin’ In The Deep, which I will teach tomorrow) are also favorites of my young vocal and piano students. However, I think if we look at that tag line again of this post-‘science has found the formula’- we will see that something is very wrong. I may be alone in my feeling here, but I doubt it. With the way EEG, MRI, fMRI and now even rtfMRI are developing, we know more about the human brain and it’s reactions to stimuli than ever before-more than we ever dreamed possible. I have a couple problems with the way the article glorifies grace notes and appoggiaturas-but most of all, how they glorify her. Yes, she and Dan Wilson have crafted a brilliant combination of soul, melodic intonation and dissonance in all the right suspended instances-but at the end of the day, I would be cautious in how objective we lean in quantifying beauty. There is a line to be drawn-there necessarily is. In saying “science has found the formula,” we have inadvertently taken the ‘magic’ (for lack of a better word) out of her song, and made it just that: a scientific formula. It should not be a commercial marketing scheme, however, and God forgive us should we ever make it one. It’s a great article, yes, and I hope everyone reads it. I only hope we can all take a step back from the science behind every mathematical placement of every ornamentation and remember why this lovely woman crafted the song in the first place.

And now, just for fun, a rough cover I did of Adele’s Hometown Glory in 2011.

Neural systems for speech and song in autism

In commencement of the administration of my pilot study (as well as my primary investigator’s full experiments) in working memory, autism and music, here is an interesting article I came across today. The idea simply drives forward what we already know: where subjects who suffer from aphasia and other language difficulties falter in normative speech patterns, music provides a far higher stimulation in areas of the brain (this study concentrating on the left inferior frontal gyrus in particular) and thus lends to speech development which ordinarily may not have been possible.


Despite language disabilities in autism, music abilities are frequently preserved. Paradoxically, brain regions associated with these functions typically overlap, enabling investigation of neural organization supporting speech and song in autism. Neural systems sensitive to speech and song were compared in low-functioning autistic and age-matched control children using passive auditory stimulation during functional magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging. Activation in left inferior frontal gyrus was reduced in autistic children relative to controls during speech stimulation, but was greater than controls during song stimulation. Functional connectivity for song relative to speech was also increased between left inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus in autism, and large-scale connectivity showed increased frontal–posterior connections. Although fractional anisotropy of the left arcuate fasciculus was decreased in autistic children relative to controls, structural terminations of the arcuate fasciculus in inferior frontal gyrus were indistinguishable between autistic and control groups. Fractional anisotropy correlated with activity in left inferior frontal gyrus for both speech and song conditions. Together, these findings indicate that in autism, functional systems that process speech and song were more effectively engaged for song than for speech and projections of structural pathways associated with these functions were not distinguishable from controls.

The open access html doc may be found here and for those interested:

DOI: 10.1093/brain/awr335

As I begin my very first experimental session, I’ll do my best to keep a log here, simply because I very much enjoy the feedback, and it helps to keep my thoughts aligned.

Musical training proven again to enhance P3a and P3b plasticity

The following is an excerpt from a recent project done in Finland regarding plasticity of the P300 ERP for infrequent target sounds, and whether or not the short-term plasticity of the P3a and P3b responses are enhanced in musicians. What did they find? Musicians were better than nonmusicians at discriminating target deviants. Not only this, but regardless of musical training, a higher working memory function also produced better discrimination.

Why this is important: This means, in line with our current knowledge of musical training, short-term plasticity, and working memory, this is just one more study to concrete the fact that musical training enhances P3a and P3b plasticity.I find this interesting largely due to my current research at the university regarding ASD, working memory models and music.


Music training enhances the rapid plasticity of P3a/P3b event-related brain potentials for unattended and attended target sounds (Seppänen, Pesonen, and Tervaniemi, 2012) 

Institute of Behavioural Sciences/Cognitive Brain Research Unit, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 9 (Siltavuorenpenger 1 B), FI-00014, Helsinki, Finland.

Neurocognitive studies have shown that extensive musical training enhances P3a and P3b event-related potentials for infrequent target sounds, which reflects stronger attention switching and stimulus evaluation in musicians than in nonmusicians. However, it is unknown whether the short-term plasticity of P3a and P3b responses is also enhanced in musicians. We compared the short-term plasticity of P3a and P3b responses to infrequent target sounds in musicians and nonmusicians during auditory perceptual learning tasks. Target sounds, deviating in location, pitch, and duration with three difficulty levels, were interspersed among frequently presented standard sounds in an oddball paradigm. We found that during passive exposure to sounds, musicians had habituation of the P3a, while nonmusicians showed enhancement of the P3a between blocks. Between active tasks, P3b amplitudes for duration deviants were reduced (habituated) in musicians only, and showed a more posterior scalp topography for habituation when compared to P3bs of nonmusicians. In both groups, the P3a and P3b latencies were shortened for deviating sounds. Also, musicians were better than nonmusicians at discriminating target deviants. Regardless of musical training, better discrimination was associated with higher working memory capacity. We concluded that music training enhances short-term P3a/P3b plasticity, indicating training-induced changes in attentional skills.


And for my Italian friends:

Gli studi neurocognitivi hanno mostrato che una estensiva istruzione musicale aumenta le risposte dei potenziali evocati evento-correlati P3a e P3b per suoni non frequenti, riflettendo una maggiore capacità di attenzione e di valutazione nei confronti dello stimolo musicale nei musicisti, piuttosto che nei non musicisti. Non si conosce ancora in ogni caso se anche le risposte a breve termine siano aumentate nei musicisti, per questo gli Autori hanno comparato le risposte P3a e P3b durante un test di apprendimento percettivo nei musicisti e non. I suoni target, differenti per localizzazione, toni e durata secondo tre differenti livelli di difficoltà, sono stati mischiati con suoni frequenti in un paradigma oddball (con uno stimolo deviante inserito in una serie di stimoli uguali). Gli Autori hanno rilevato che durante l’esposizione passiva ai suoni i musicisti presentavano un certo grado di adattamento (diminuzione) nel potenziale P3a, mentre i non musicisti mostravano un aumento della risposta tra i vari blocchi di suoni. Tra un test e l’altro, le ampiezze di P3b per le deviazioni di durata sono state ridotte in conseguenza dell’adattamento solo nei musicisti, e mostravano una topografia posteriore nello scalpo se comparate alle risposte dei non musicisti. In entrambi i gruppi, le latenze P3a e P3b erano ridotte nei confronti dei suoni devianti, ma i musicisti avevano una migliore capacità di discriminare i target devianti. Indipendentemente dal training musicale, una migliore discriminazione era associata a una più alta capacità di memoria di lavoro. Gli Autori hanno concluso che il training musicale aumenta la plasticità a breve termine P3a/P3b, indicando che esistono dei cambiamenti attentivi indotti dal training musicale.

On the origin of my PhD topic, Music Intervention as Psychotherapeutic Approach

Thanks to Pravin Jeya for his inquiry as to the origin of my PhD topic.                      Many of you have asked, and without going too in depth into my  passionate affair with fight or flight and the amygdala, I have tried to explain where it began. The post may be found here, and I would encourage you to check it out in conjunction with Pravin’s work.

If one were to ask for my academic or intellectual rationale for choosing music psychology, I would most likely rattle off something matter-of-factly about how I’ve grown up around music and psychology. My parents were psychologists; my mother has two doctorates so academic achievement was always very important. Yet they always stressed the cultural and intellectual importance of music. Music is what I do, and I have a lazy passion for the more philosophical side of things, so it simply ‘made sense,’ as it were.

As to my intellectual rationale for music psychology, it started exactly a year ago. From the time I discovered Dr. Victoria Williamson’s research in the applied neuroscience of music, I’ve been completely enamored with the field. Since I was a young child, I’ve been devoted to the pursuit of music in any way possible. I’ve been involved in music theatre, music video production and engineering, music composition, and music marketing in radio and television. As my emotional intelligence developed, however, I found I also had an intense desire to understand people and their motives. In high school and college, I took classes in philosophy, psychology and ethics. My first emphasis in college was music and psychology. But as I was strongly discouraged from pursuing majors with such ‘different focuses,’ I chose music alone. In line with this, I never resolved to solely do one or the other, and eventually it was cause for a year break before enrolling in a graduate programme. I found I simply could not be happy studying only music or only psychology. Enter my absolute elation upon discovering the Music, Mind and Brain programme at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I believe that their programme’s careful integration of music perception, neuroscience and statistical methods combined with a faculty of such encouragement and expertise will be just the training I seek in preparation of a PhD and a career in the field.

If someone were to ask to explain or justify my ‘non-academic’ journey into exactly what I have chosen to pursue, I still find myself needing to pause and really think it through. One catalyst for this is that my rationale is not static but dynamic, changing and evolving daily into something slightly new and adjusted. I suppose that that should say something in and of itself – the pursuit of music psychology has become my life blood – it’s what I think about most moments of every day. The more I’ve reflected on my own listening habits over the years, the more I realize there are few times I am without music. I use it advantageously in every possible situation. As an ENFJ (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, judging) Jungian personality type, being able to calm and put people at ease is one of my greatest joys, and strengths. Music can turn a moment of happiness into a moment of memorable bliss that stays with you always. It can also turn a slightly vague and uncomfortable memory into a transparent lake of psychoanalytical outpouring. Music is in everything, and it has the power to heal people.

If one were to ask the truly cementing factor in my life that secured music psychology, however, it is most of all the following. Last summer, I lost my step-sister, my father, and my best friend within two weeks of each other. Though I’d dealt with a fair share of hardship in adolescence, I’d never gone through anything of this magnitude. Through the process of witnessing my family’s grief (and my own) in spending time in hospitals and hospice, I felt more than ever an acute desire to help people through their pain. I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because I am a living attestation. There are many who would disagree with my personal ethic, but I continued to teach my private music lessons to children in the morning after I lost my father, and missed not a single lesson until several months later. I’m finding my time now to be alone and to grieve, but I honestly believe that the joy of working with kids in music sustained me through the more terrible moments, and as I said, I’ve kept in reserve the strength to maintain my lessons and lead a research project at the university. I wish to practice music psychology because I know it works. I now desire to delve further into the why, and the how.

My long-term goal is to complete a PhD in using music as a therapeutic tool in those who struggle with self-harm. From there exist many options I’d like to pursue, such as research and music therapy in a clinical setting. Though I have many different interests in listening behavior, emotional intelligence and applied neuroscience, the concept of psychological resilience remains of the most consequence to me, and I’ve many ideas how to pair this with music.

Diana Hereld holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Communication. She works currently as a psychology researcher at California State University, music tutor in piano and voice, and teacher for an early childhood music company. When she is not working, she spends her time independently researching all things music psychology and neuroscience, and theology/philosophy when it pertains to the former. Her interest is particularly in the way varied personality types respond emotionally to music, whether that can change over time in consequence of plasticity, and the implications for psychological resilience. She has just been accepted into the Music, Mind and Brain MSc programme at Goldsmiths College University of London for Fall 2012. You can follow her on Twitter @christypaffgen and subscribe to her blog, As the Spirit Wanes: The Form Appears.