Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Conference Report: The Neurosciences and Music-IV-Learning and Memory

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Conference Report: The Neurosciences and Music-IV-Learning and Memory

Article excerpt

The year 2011 saw the fourth in a series of conferences on Neurosciences and Music organized by the Mariani Foundation (Fondazione Pierfranco e Luisa Mariani) and hosted this year by the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD) at the University of Edinburgh. Within IMHSD, Katie Overy led a panel of international experts on the scientific committee. The aim of the triennial conference is to promote the dissemination of knowledge in research fields related to neurobiology, physiology, psychology, and neuropsychology applied to music, emphasizing developmental issues. This year's theme was Learning and Memory, and the conference brought together neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicians, musicologists, clinicians, and therapists for 50 presentations spread over 9 symposia, 2 workshops, and a keynote lecture, along with a further 243 posters across 3 sessions, all held between the 9th and 12th of June 2011.

Constraints of time and space make it impossible to include all presentations, so we have aimed to give a narrative overview of the event tying together three themes that caught our attention: (a) perception of basic musical structure (rhythm and meter) and musical imagery; (b) the production of music (memory, learning and plasticity induced by musical training); and (c) music in the context of psychological disorders. Further details are available from the Mariani Foundation (, in a blog reviewing the conference, from the perspective of music psychology (http://, and another from the perspective of neuroaesthetics (

Music Perception

Bottom-Up: Processing of Basic Musical Structure

The first symposium examined mechanisms of rhythm and meter learning where a key theme of recent research has been the differences between beat-based and interval-based processing in terms of cognitive and neural processing. Contributing to these issues, J. Devin McAuley from Michigan State University showed that individual differences in beat sensitivity are related to differential activation in the basal ganglia and cortical motor areas (Grahn & McAuley, 2009). Several presenters at the conference focused on implicit learning in music perception and production, the first being Henkjan Honing from the Universiteit van Amsterdam who examined a range of research suggesting that preattentive hierarchical representations of rhythm are actually learned implicitly through mere exposure rather than through explicit musical training. This suggests that exposure might be a crucial source for interindividual differences in rhythm and meter learning (Winkler, Haden, Ladieig, Sziller, & Honing, 2009).

Top-Down: Musical Imagery

Another symposium focused on higher-level processes involved in the perception of music with no bottom-up auditory input. Andrea Halpern from Bucknell University presented functional MRI (fMRI) data showing that increased vividness in musical imagery correlates with increased activation in motor areas such as Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) and basal ganglia but not, interestingly, in sensory cortex (Leaver, Van Lare, Zielinski, Halpern, & Rauschecker, 2009). Conversely, in a study presented by Robert Zatorre from McGill University, Montreal, mental transformations of music (another kind of musical imagery: recognizing reversed and transposed melodies) were found to activate intraparietal sulcus implicating the dorsal auditory pathway-that is, enhanced sensory processing-during manipulation of musical material. These diverging results in terms of sensory processing during musical imagery may be because of differences in the paradigms used or to familiarity with the musical stimuli.

Turning to interindividual differences in musical imagery abilities, Peter Keller from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig presented a series of studies on action simulation suggesting that better anticipatory auditory imagery ability helps prediction and synchronization in social situations, especially when both participants are good predictors. …

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