The Development of Music Psychology in Britain: A Personal Perspective

By Gregory, Andrew H. | Psychomusicology, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Development of Music Psychology in Britain: A Personal Perspective


Gregory, Andrew H., Psychomusicology


ABSTRACT-The development of music psychology in Britain over the last few decades is outlined from the personal viewpoint of the author, who was actively involved in research and teaching in the field. The important ideas and influential researchers of the period are described, together with their influence on the author's own research interests. More recent developments are also reviewed showing the great broadening of research activity in the whole subject area.

I came into Psychology from a scientific background at a time of rising interest in the questions of perception and cognition. Although a keen amateur musician, I decided to specialize in visual perception, inspired by Richard Gregory (no relation), Fergus Campbell, and Horace Barlow at the University of Cambridge. At that time, in the 1960s, psychological studies on vision still had a valuable role to play in advancing knowledge. However, gradually advances in physiological research seemed to be explaining more and more of the phenomena of visual perception, and there remained much less scope for purely psychological studies.

I became interested in another developing field at that time, the idea of cerebral dominance. For normal right-handed people the left cerebral hemisphere seemed to control most speech functions, whilst the right hemisphere seemed more associated with spatial processing. Kimura (1964), using the technique of dichotic listening, had demonstrated that the perception of melody was probably also a right hemisphere function. The idea of this dichotomy, language in the left hemisphere, music in the right, first aroused my interest in music psychology. What about the perception of rhythm? This occurs in both music and in language but is probably more fundamental to music. With a graduate student, Lorna Roberts, we asked listeners to adjust the precise timing of brief auditory stimuli presented alternately to the two ears, and concluded that it was the right hemisphere that was involved in rhythm perception (Gregory, Harriman, & Roberts, 1972). A further study using the technique of delayed auditory feedback on rhythmic tapping again suggested right hemisphere involvement (Roberts & Gregory, 1973). At this time the techniques for presenting precisely controlled auditory stimuli required considerable ingenuity. The experiment requiring regular brief pulses of sound used an audiometer controlled by external logic circuits, and delayed auditory feedback was produced by the delay between the record and playback heads of a tape-recorder.

My developing interest in this field led to a study of Deutsch 's (1974) auditory illusion. She reported that alternating 2-note chords, presented with one note to each ear, were usually perceived by righthanded listeners as a sequence of high tones to the right ear and low tones to the left ear. With a colleague, Ian Christensen, we studied this with harmonic and dissonant chords, and also varying the relative intensity of the notes (Christensen & Gregory, 1977). For harmonic chords only a single tone was heard, but where it was heard depended critically on which ear received the louder note. For dissonant chords the two individual notes were more often heard. This supported an alternative study by Efron and Yund (1974), which demonstrated that individuals differ in their ear dominance for pitch perception.

I spent a sabbatical year in California working with Robert Efron, William Yund, and also Pierre Divenyi, a talented musician working on language. This improved my knowledge of both the theoretical bases of auditory and musical perception, and of the use of computers to control auditory and musical stimuli. My research during this year also led to studies showing that there was no clear relationship between ear dominance and handedness (Gregory, 1982), and that ear dominance was not simply explained by either attentional bias or by hemispheric specialization in the processing of tonal stimuli (Gregory, Efron, Divenyi, & Yund, 1983). …

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