"The Social and Applied Psychology of Music"

By O'Neill, Susan A. | Psychomusicology, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview
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"The Social and Applied Psychology of Music"


O'Neill, Susan A., Psychomusicology


"The Social and Applied Psychology of Music" by Adrian North & David Hargreaves "The Social and Applied Psychology of Music", by Adrian North & David Hargreaves. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. (ISBN 978-0-19-856742-4, Paperback, 476pp., $69.95).

In this book by North and Hargreaves, a quick glance at the contents reveals that the applied science of music psychology is more than the application of psychological theories and principles to address real world problems. It is a way of making a real difference in our lives. It is also a way of raising awareness of the significance of music for bettering the human condition in the hope of safeguarding it from the "moral, financial, and technological pressures" of the modern world. Throughout their systematic and well-constructed overview, the authors remind us that responsible ethics and humane values must be at the forefront of any social and applied psychology research agenda if music is to be recognized and appreciated as a "manifestation of the human spirit".

There are seven chapters, and the topics cover theoretical and empirical explorations of music in relation to creativity, composition and musicianship; preferences and taste; manipulation and subcultures; industry, business and health; development and education. North and Hargreaves tell us that Doise's (1986) concept of "levels of analysis" was an important influence on their own research and on the way they have defined the social psychology of music according to intraindividual, interindividual/situational, socio-positional, and ideological. The authors also adopted a topicbased approach to the book "in the hope that, by juxtaposing related bodies of research that are largely uninformed by one another, researchers will be more inclined to draw on related work and increase the coherence of the field" (p. 5).

Donaldson, Berger, and Pezdek (2006) remind us that in addition to up-to-date theory and research-based applications of psychology, a volume devoted to applied psychology can be used to inform researchers and practitioners alike about the varied and wide-ranging opportunities that exist for addressing education, health, social, legal, and economic problems. The volume by North and Hargreaves is an important reminder of the tremendous growth of research in the social psychology of music that has taken place since Farnsworth (1969) published his second edition on this topic. There has been a paradigm shift in music psychology in general towards a focus on social factors and contexts. Hargreaves and North's (1997) edited publication on the social psychology of music marked a noticeable increase in studies that examined "the purpose and implications of musical behavior in naturalistic contexts" (p. 9). Their latest book goes even further in dispelling the seemingly false dichotomy between basic and applied research in music psychology and between music psychology and other related fields such as sociology, anthropology, education, economics, cultural, media and communication studies.

One of the high points in the book for me, and perhaps one of the most provocative topics of investigation in applied psychology of music today, relates to musical tastes and preferences, the reasons we like or dislike certain styles or forms of music, and the impact music has on people in their everyday lives. This is an area where North and Hargreaves have made some of their most prolific and seminal research contributions. For nearly two decades, they have investigated musical tastes and preferences across a variety of ages and social contexts in an attempt to unravel the great mystery of how musical elements and sociocultural factors are related to our sense of musical valuing. They provide a detailed theoretical and experimental background for future researchers to build on and give many clues about how we might best proceed in finding answers to important overarching questions. I believe that these questions should include: How does music make a significant contribution to our lives?

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