‘Beautiful but sad’ music can help people feel better

psychology-sad-music-enhances-mood-300x214Listening to sad music in adverse situations: How music selection strategies relate to self-regulatory goals, listening effects, and mood enhancement

Annemieke J.M. Van den Tol, School of Psychology, University of Kent, Keynes E-105, Canterbury, CT2 7NP, UK. Email: A.J.M.van-den-Tol@kent.ac.uk


Adults’ (N = 220) reported motivations for listening to sad music after experiencing adverse negative circumstances were examined by exploring how their music selection strategies related to (a) their self-regulatory goals, and (b) reported effects of listening. The effects of music selection strategies, self-regulatory goals, and reported effects on the achievement of mood enhancement were also explored using a retrospective survey design. The findings indicate that music choice is linked to the individual’s identified self-regulatory goals for music listening and to expected effects. Additionally, the results show that if individuals had intended to achieve mood enhancement through music listening, this was often achieved by first experiencing cognitive reappraisal or distraction. The selection of music with perceived high aesthetic value was the only music selection strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement. Where respondents indicated that they chose music with the intention of triggering memories, this was negatively related to the self-regulatory goal of mood enhancement.

Source: neurosciencenews.com, Psychology of Music (SAGE)

Play it again sam: brain correlates of emotional music recognition

play_it_sam_play_as_time_goes_byEckart Altenmüller1*Susann Siggel1Bahram Mohammadi2,3Amir Samii3 and Thomas F. Münte2
  • 1Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians’s Medicine, University of Music, Drama and Media, Hannover, Germany
  • 2Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • 3CNS Laboratory, International Neuroscience Institute, Hannover, Germany

Background: Music can elicit strong emotions and can be remembered in connection with these emotions even decades later. Yet, the brain correlates of episodic memory for highly emotional music compared with less emotional music have not been examined. We therefore used fMRI to investigate brain structures activated by emotional processing of short excerpts of film music successfully retrieved from episodic long-term memory.

Methods: Eighteen non-musicians volunteers were exposed to 60 structurally similar pieces of film music of 10 s length with high arousal ratings and either less positive or very positive valence ratings. Two similar sets of 30 pieces were created. Each of these was presented to half of the participants during the encoding session outside of the scanner, while all stimuli were used during the second recognition session inside the MRI-scanner. During fMRI each stimulation period (10 s) was followed by a 20 s resting period during which participants pressed either the “old” or the “new” button to indicate whether they had heard the piece before.

Results: Musical stimuli vs. silence activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right insula, right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral medial frontal gyrus and the left anterior cerebellum. Old pieces led to activation in the left medial dorsal thalamus and left midbrain compared to new pieces. For recognized vs. not recognized old pieces a focused activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum was found. Positive pieces activated the left medial frontal gyrus, the left precuneus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the left posterior cingulate, the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and the left thalamus compared to less positive pieces.

Conclusion: Specific brain networks related to memory retrieval and emotional processing of symphonic film music were identified. The results imply that the valence of a music piece is important for memory performance and is recognized very fast.

Received: 29 April 2013; Accepted: 27 January 2014;
Published online: 18 February 2014.

Edited by: Daniel J. Levitin, McGill University, Canada

Reviewed by: Stefan Koelsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and Psyche Loui, Wesleyan University, USA

Taken from open-access article published in Front. Psychol. distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). For full text of the article, please visit Frontiers.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Music, Mind and Meaning Conference at the Peabody Institute– Day 1 Recap

IMG_9755 Music, Mind and Meaning Conference – Day 1

Apart from the seventy (yes, seventy) degree temperature shock going from Los Angeles to Baltimore, I had a wonderful evening at the opening of the Music, Mind and Meaning conference at the Peabody Institute. The evening began with rousing introductions all around, and I was wonderfully honored to finally meet some of my favorite scholars face to face.

At 7pm, Dr. David Huron took the floor for the keynote address. In his talk, “Emotions and Meanings in Music, he posed the question, “In what ways can music convey meaning?” Songs have lyrics, works have evocative titles, but most of music’s meaning comes from other sources including:

  • Cultural schemas
  • Learned expectations
  • Personal associations

In his over sixty minute presentation, Huron covered everything from how musical associations become universal cultural icons, to the psychoacoustics of intimacy (which contained brilliant perspectives I had never visualized), to an explicitly detailed account of how ethologists differentiate between signals versus cues, and what we can take from learning about hostile versus friendly behavior in animals to musical studies. Since my arrival, I’ve listened to one out of nine lectures, and am, at present, blown away. Let’s just say this: you know it’s good when you have world-class academics on either side murmuring in awe at what is being presented. I look very forward to recounting the full presentation when time permits.

Following Dr. Huron’s talk, a duo took the stage like I haven’t quite seen before. I’d venture it’s not uncommon, but when Grammy-nominated pianist and composer (and MacArthur genius fellowship recipient) Vijay Iyer improvises a single-song performance – for thirty-five minutes nonstop – one listens. Joined by Gary Thomas (Director of Jazz Studies, Peabody) on the saxophone followed by flute, the enigmatic chemistry that was created simply devoured the room like a thick trance. One of my favorite enigmas of the evening was simply glancing down the two rows of conference speakers to see who was bobbing side to side, or front to back; the eyes that were closed or engaged, or (my favorite) watching the woman who periodically plugged her ears as if to reimagine what she had just heard.

The evening closed with a reception lasting well past eleven in the Peabody library. Accompanied by a presentation of the exhibit from the personal collection of Eugene S. Flamm, the final talk included introducing some of the very oldest texts surrounding neurosurgery and the cradle of medicine known to exist. I look very forward to the continuance and development of the conference tomorrow morning.

Music and Memory 2014 Columbia Music Scholarship Conference

CMSCThe tenth annual Columbia Music Scholarship Conference (CMSC) will be held on March 8, 2014 at Columbia University in the City of New York. The theme of the 2014 meeting is Music and Memory. The conference is organized by graduate students from the Department of Music at Columbia University with financial support from the Department of Music and the Graduate Student Advisory Council.

The conference welcomes Prof. Jonathan Sterne from the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University as the 2014 keynote speaker. Prof. Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science Program at McGill University. He is author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Duke 2012), The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Duke, 2003); and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. He is also editor of The Sound Studies Reader (Routledge, 2012). His new projects consider instruments and instrumentalities; histories of signal processing; and the intersections of disability, technology and perception.

Burgeoning interdisciplinary inquiry on memory is enabling scholars to develop new perspectives in a diverse array of fields ranging from history, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, art history, archeology, cultural studies, and media studies, to philosophy, political science, theology, education, psychology, and the cognitive sciences. This conference will add to this growing interdisciplinary conversation about memory in the sciences, arts, and humanities, stimulating a dialogue both on the role of memory in music studies and on the place of music in studies of memory.

The conference seeks to consider the complexity of memory’s embeddedness in music’s practices, subjects, objects, ideologies, sites, and technologies. Interests lie in memory as lived, constructed, represented, performed, transmitted, inscribed, incorporated, and stored, as persisting, travelling and circulating, as material and immaterial, human and non-human, as a capacity and a resource that impacts and shapes everyday lives. In what ways can memory influence musical practice, and in what ways can musical practice influence memory? How might memories be theorized musically? What can music scholars offer to memory studies, and memory scholars to music studies?

Information provided by the CMSC website.


What Dreams May Come : Neural Substrates in Resilience

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

-Shakespeare, Hamlet

On December 5, 2013, Neuron published case study “The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cingulate Gyrus.” Although researchers at Stanford University came across these intriguing results by accident, the implications may prove in the future to be of some consequence. In order to gain knowledge in the neurological source of seizures, study co-author Vinitha Rangarajan explains they were in the process of delivering an electrical charge to the anterior midcingulate cortex region (involved in emotion, pain and cognitive processing) of two persons with epilepsy when the finding occurred. When the charge was delivered, both individuals experienced increase in heart rate, and various sensations in their chest and neck. These physiological sensations were accompanied by a psychological expectation of challenge, and the desire to surmount it.

When, in following, the patients only thought their brains were being stimulated (but were not), they did not experience any of the prior symptoms. This process of assumed stimulation was repeated 5mm away, with the same result – an absence of any or the previous physical or psychological effects. In a press release, lead author Dr. Parvizi explains “Our study pinpoints the precise anatomical coordinates of neuronal populations, and their associated network, that support complex psychological and behavioral states associated with perseverance.” Dissimilarities in this neuronal structure may be tied to innate differences in our capacity to cope and endure amid trying circumstances.

The study highlights dictate:[i]

  • Electrical stimulation of the anterior cingulate region performed in two subjects
  • A stereotyped set of cognitive and autonomic changes was elicited in both subjects
  • This included feeling of anticipated challenge and strong motivation to overcome it
  • Site of stimulation in both subjects was a core node of the brain’s salience network


Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is known to be involved in functions such as emotion, pain, and cognitive control. While studies in humans and nonhuman mammals have advanced our understanding of ACC function, the subjective correlates of ACC activity have remained largely unexplored. In the current study, we show that electrical charge delivery in the anterior midcingulate cortex (aMCC) elicits autonomic changes and the expectation of an imminent challenge coupled with a determined attitude to overcome it. Seed-based, resting-state connectivity analysis revealed that the site of stimulation in both patients was at the core of a large-scale distributed network linking aMCC to the frontoinsular and frontopolar as well as some subcortical regions. This report provides compelling, first-person accounts of electrical stimulation of this brain network and suggests its possible involvement in psychopathological conditions that are characterized by a reduced capacity to endure psychological or physical distress.

In brief departure, I am reminded of William James’ thoughts on the notion of the “threshhold.”

Recent psychology has found great use for the word ‘threshold’ as a symbolic designation for the point at which one state of mind passes into another. Thus we speak of the threshold of a man’s consciousness in general, to indicate the amount of noise, pressure, or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention at all. One with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket by which one with a low threshold would be immediately waked. Similarly, when one is sensitive to small differences in any order of sensation we say he has a low ‘difference-threshold’- his mind easily steps over it into the consciousness of the differences in question. And just so we might speak of a ‘pain-threshold,’ a ‘fear-threshold,’ a ‘misery-threshold,’ and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often reached by their consciousness.[ii]

What is it that allows some individuals to fall off the horse fifty times, only to get back up fifty one? To attend one hundred grueling auditions whilst retaining the hope and inertia to continue showing up? To find love and then betrayal, and yet continue to open one’s heart to the vulnerabilities of emotion? Findings such as these in neuroscience are critical to the understanding of pain, fear, and crisis thresholds, and leave many open pathways for discovery in the realm of physical and psychological resilience.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.


[i] Parvizi J, Rangarajan V, Shirer W, et al. The Will to Persevere Induced by Electrical Stimulation of the Human Anterior Cingulate Cortex. Neuron. 2013.

[ii] The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: Longmans, Green, 1916. Originally published in 1902.

Damasio on The Origins of Creativity (A Philosophy of Art, Part II).


On Saturday, the Society for Neuroscience presented the Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Chaired by Antonio Damasio, presenters included composer Bruce Adolphe, clinical psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind) and Damasio himself. Each speaker depicted a unique portrait in examples of creations, collaborations and the psyche behind it – Jamison through beautiful insight into the correlation of madness to creativity; Adolphe via imagination in his portrayal of a musical composition in alliance to mental illness.

It was Damasio, however, that really caught my attention in the vein he chose to depict what it is to create. He began, “Creativity is largely human – it is entirely a product of the mind, a product of mind-making brains. It assists life regulation (homeostasis).”[i] Long before there was even the option of achieving a balance of survival, there were simply eukaryotic cells, operating unconsciously. From there came the brain, then the mind, and from there, the self. For Damasio, to construct consciousness, the brain uses the mind (the basic component) and the self (where consciousness comes to light). “Creations are original products of the mind. Creativity is the engendering of such projects – ideas, objects, activities, etc. The self engenders a concern for the life proceedings, and it allows individuals to seek well-being, a state far more complex and difficult to obtain than mere survival. It is only then that the game of life changes radically, and we move from blind biology to the rebellious determination that brings on complex social behavior and eventually culture and civilizations…Art can only emerge then, and it becomes a critical component of that cultural evolution.”[ii]

Before creating a discourse in cultural necessity, let us briefly consider the biological. The cognitive and neural substrates shown between the processes of existing on the creating end, and those on the end of perceiving the created, reveal undeniable similarities. Although the means and neural activations certainly reveal a contrast (for example, portrait painting might activate the fusiform gyrus behind facial recognition, while recognizing expression in the portrait may illuminate the occipital lobe or the amygdala). Much of their motive and affect illustrate many parallels. In creating art, one basic but essential component is being able to utilize skills drawn from learning and memory recall. The creator need use their procedural memory, such as memories storing unconscious learnt skills (such as riding a bike or laying one’s fingers to the piano keys), and declarative memory, in the means of episodic memories (evoked from personal experiences) or semantic (the recall of facts, such as adhering to the accidentals of F minor).

In addition to memories summoned on behalf of the creator, Damasio further explains many of the same tools used in processing and affect are utilized on the opposing end. For the observer, the fluid interplay of remembrance, recalled emotions and feelings oft lead to analysis and reflection (be it superficial or profound). Prior experience with the particular art form (connoisseurship) shapes the observer’s ability to evaluate and enjoy what they have either sought or been presented. Individual preference determines distinctions in imagination and the breakdown/composition of elements in much the same way the creator embarks in posing the question “How novel is it, and how much does it fit the original goal defined?” As Damasio states, “On the mind-brain side of it, you have the importance for imagination, and of memory recall (the ability to display working memory’s faces and realize what it imagined). All of this needs to be modulated by affective experience. The moment you think about this in pure, non-affective cognitive terms, you very simply throw away the baby with the bathwater. It is the guidance that comes from the affective process from the emotional drive and the feeling that is going to make it work, or not.”[iii]

In circling back to the evolutionary underpinnings and origins of art in the physical, musical or visual realms, we retain that both the creator and receiver’s pursuit of art responding to their conscious (or unconscious) recognition of problems and needs. Humanity requires a method of processing, reasoning and making decisions, which the object theoretically should fulfill in its obligation of response. One could easily draw the conclusion that there existed a need (and therefore objective) to communicate with others. Damasio describes threats and opportunities, varying social behaviors, or conveying one’s own sorrow or joy as the probable key intents of communiqué. When these conversations were successful, and were found to be of positive effect, there came to being a compensatory balance. He arrives at a notable point in the seemingly obvious: How would the arts have prevailed otherwise?

Art responds to a need. Art fulfills the wont for intellectual enrichment, satisfies an otherwise empty void for many social contexts and institutions, lends much to the progress of science and technology, and realizes the desire for a more purposeful life existentially. The epic poems of Homer or Ovid are a significant example of a transaction for interaction of information. Prior to the enormous maturity and proliferation of science, literature was a vital method of imparting knowledge and fundamental means of exploration. We observed this heavily is the rise of psychoanalysis at the turn of the century, later by film, and now by neuroscience.

In addition to the evolutionary value of being able to communicate general information, Damasio posits the second largest catalyst for creativity was not only a mechanism of bonding and attachment (i.e. parent to offspring or in reproduction, male to female) but a means to induce nourishing emotions and feelings of varied kinds and importance, such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, indignation, revenge, pride, contempt, shame, loyalty and love. Damasio submits that music does this most of all-most importantly and most universally. The discovery of pleasure in reaction to varying timbres, pitches, rhythms and their relationship to each other surely contributed to the indispensable invention and persistence of this art form – relationships which were discovered in a setting of play, and of repetition.

The foundations of creativity and constructions of art were crucial to the formation of society and to the evolution of humanity in not only the aesthetic sense, but also one of ethics. They promoted a sense of communal organization, and directly provided a mode of exercising moral judgment and moral action. The arts had a candid survival value in forming communication for calls of alarm or opportunity, and they contributed to the notion of well-being. The arts fortified social groups, and social groups in turn fortified creativity. The impulse to create and as a result embrace new and adaptive behaviors possibly even helped humans transcend the Paleolithic era.[iv] They contributed to an exchange of ideas and compensated for emotional imbalances caused by fear, anger, desire, sadness and loss, and catalyzed the sustained process of establishing social and cultural institutions. Because art is so heavily founded in biology, thus homeostasis, and can take us to the highest realms of thought and of feeling, art is an authentic means into the refinement humanity most desires.

 Three years later, much has changed in my life. Three years ago, my father, a singer and profound example of an artist’s command of control and heavenly motive, was still alive. So was a dear friend, who gave me my first book on Jackson Pollock to “stretch my artistic enjoyment.” Much has changed. Much has been found, and lost. Through all the things I have learned and gained, what propels me the most in intellectual, academic and moral pursuits remain: the search for beauty, knowledge, hope, and resilience. I have more than one jealous muse – neuroscience, poetry, dance, psychology, affection, seeking the coveted childlike wonder of the sky’s blanket before dawn – and music most of all. These things are all meaningless, all futile, however, devoid of passion for the refinement and rediscovery of buoyancy, integrity, compassion and love. There are a great many things in art and life that I do not understand, and will never understand. It is the greatest comedy, the most schizophrenic irony of all to be human, in a constant pursuit of perfection that will never be obtained. The alternative is contentment, dormant satisfaction, apathy. This, I reject. If time will not pause while I find my way, it stands to reason that by inertia I will keep going, keep attempting, regardless. If I am to undergo this fallen, fleeting existence of tragic loss and immeasurable joy in the means most true to my human nature, I will do so with art.

After all, in the words of Damasio, when we undergo art, we change for the better.

cupid and psyche

[i] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.

[ii] Damasio, Antonio. (June 11, 2009).Evolutionary Origins of Art and Aesthetics: Art and Emotions. CARTA (Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny). Salk Institute, La Jolla.

[iii] Damasio, Antonio. (November 9, 2013). Fred Kavli Public Symposium on Creativity. Neuroscience 2013. Society for Neuroscience, San Diego.

[iv] ibid

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.

Effects of voice on emotional arousal

(From the Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston MA, USA; Department of Psychology, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT, USA).

Effects of voice on emotional arousal – Loui P, Bachorik JP, Li HC, Schlaug G

In December 2011, as a slight detour from some graduate school meetings, I traveled to Vienna to attend the 2nd World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology. It was here that I met Dr. Gottfried Schlaug and witnessed his intriguing presentation on Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT). This groundbreaking work has since proved to be a useful form of therapy in a variety of pragmatic ways across the general public. 

He comes to us now with results from a study investigating the effects of the human voice and lyricism have on emotional valence and arousal, and though the results may prove less than shocking, the implications for the continued study of emotion and music should be:

Music is a powerful medium capable of eliciting a broad range of emotions. Although the relationship between language and music is well documented, relatively little is known about the effects of lyrics and the voice on the emotional processing of music and on listeners’ preferences. In the present study, we investigated the effects of vocals in music on participants’ perceived valence and arousal in songs. Participants (N = 50) made valence and arousal ratings for familiar songs that were presented with and without the voice. We observed robust effects of vocal content on perceived arousal. Furthermore, we found that the effect of the voice on enhancing arousal ratings is independent of familiarity of the song and differs across genders and age: females were more influenced by vocals than males; furthermore these gender effects were enhanced among older adults. Results highlight the effects of gender and aging in emotion perception and are discussed in terms of the social roles of music.

For my Italian friends: 

La musica è un mezzo potentissimo capace di sollecitare un’ampia varietà di emozioni. Sebbene la relazione tra il linguaggio e la musica sia ben documentata, si sa relativamente poco circa gli effetti delle parole e della voce sull’elaborazione delle emozioni musicali e delle preferenze dell’ascoltatore. In questo studio, gli Autori indagano l’effetto della voce cantata sulla percezione della valenza emotiva e dell’arousal sugli ascoltatori. 50 partecipanti sono stati invitati a esprimere un giudizio sulla valenza emotiva delle canzoni familiari che venivano loro presentate, con o senza voce. Gli Autori hanno osservato un potente effetto del contenuto delle parole sull’arousal percepito. Inoltre, gli Autori hanno rilevato che l’effetto delle parole nell’aumentare i punteggi di arousal era indipendente dalla familiarità del pezzo ed era differente tra individui di sesso ed età diversi. Le donne erano più influenzate dalle parole rispetto agli uomini, e questi effetti dipendenti dal genere aumentavano con l’aumentare dell’età dei soggetti. I risultati sottolineano l’importanza del genere e dell’età nella percezione delle emozioni nella musica e vengono discussi in termini di ruolo sociale della musica.

For further inquiry into the study, please visit Frontiers.

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 http://www.casbs.org 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.