Music, Cognition, and the Brain

Participating Faculties: Don Wright Faculty of Music (host), Faculty of Social Science

Project Leaders: Jonathan De Souza, Jessica Grahn, Ingrid Johnsrude, Ewan Macpherson, Kevin Watson

Total Project Funding:  $135,840

Funding Period: 3 years


Musical activity combines perceptual, cognitive, and motor skills in real time, and it can offer social and health benefits for diverse populations. While psychologists and neuroscientists probe musical activity for insights about the human mind and brain, music scholars examine its cultural, pedagogical, and theoretical aspects. Though these approaches can complement each other, scientific and humanistic studies of music are often disconnected. This can result in experiments with flawed musical stimuli and musicological writings with problematic assumptions about human cognitive processes. At Western, however, we have a unique opportunity to combine these approaches: the university includes internationally recognized professors in the cognitive neuroscience of music, hearing science, music education, and music theory.

This interdisciplinary initiative brings together faculty members from the Don Wright Faculty of Music, the Brain and Mind Institute, and the National Centre for Audiology. It will strengthen existing research collaborations in music cognition and neuroscience, which have recently been supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). At the same time, the initiative will create exciting educational opportunities at both graduate and undergraduate levels. Doctoral and masters students from existing disciplinary programs will participate in a graduate collaborative program, which will enhance opportunities for interdisciplinary coursework and co-supervision. We will also attract exceptional undergraduate students by defining a pathway for a dual degree in music and psychology—which will be unique in Canada—and through innovative course offerings. Because Western has comprehensive programs in both areas, such students will gain hands-on experience in music and scientific research. Finally, students and faculty members will benefit from a seminar series that will bring distinguished experts on music psychology and neuroscience to Western. All of this will position Western as an international leader in music cognition research and education.