Congenital amusia,  Earworms,  Music Medicine & Therapy

Music, Mind and Brain Masters students

I have a few unexpected hours this morning as the unseasonably early snow has led to the cancellation of my current experiments. This is easily fixable of course when things get back to normal and the last thing I want is for any of my wonderful participants to risk their safety travelling in to London! So I thought I would take advantage of this unexpected time and catch up on my blog, which I am afraid I let slide over the past couple of busy weeks. Many apologies to my kind readers.

First order of business is to say a huge CONGRATULATIONS to my 2009-2010 masters students who all passed their course recently and are now MScs in Music, Mind and Brain – Hurrah! Below is a little summary of what they all did for their final dissertations.

Lewis put in a mammoth effort to complete a project looking at the way that pleasure seeking behaviours including music listening are affected by smoking abstinence. It really was not easy getting participants to take part in the study and on top of this Lewis put a lot of effort into developing his testing materials. His work has helped paved the way for a new collaboration with UCL’s Heath Behaviour Research Centre and I gave a talk about our results just a few weeks ago, which was very well received (Thanks again for the invitation Jenny and for the help with the project!). Hopefully we will be able to continue our work in this area and learn more about how music listening can help with smoking abstinence.

Josh worked so very hard on the website and completed a great project looking at the relationship between earworm occurrence and subclinical OCD traits, as well as other general tendencies to musical imagery. He will be presenting a poster on the project at the January meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society (EPS) called The Earwormery: Learning more about involuntary musical imagery and how it relates to personality and musical experience. (, page 10). If you are around feel free to drop in and have a chat with him about the earworm project. The EPS London meeting is free to attend and has a wide range of really interesting talks and posters. And if you are a student then you can get a Grindley grant to pay for travel and accommodation!

In case you are interested I will also be giving a talk at the EPS January meeting about the relationship between pitch and space in congenital amusia (Thursday 6th at 12 noon), and my colleague Dr Fang Liu will be talking about the incidence of congenital amusia in Chinese speakers, Mandarin Chinese being a tonal language (Thursday 6th at 11.30am).

Finally, a word about the last student project I was involved in this year. Sebastian did a study looking at the musical features that characterise earworm tunes. Starting from scratch he worked really hard on learning and developing the FANTASTIC software toolbox ( ) developed by Dr Daniel Müllensiefen (his main supervisor). FANTASTIC was the main tool that he used to analyse the earworm tunes gathered from He also spent many hours searching through music databases and airplay charts to come up with control songs for his model – not an easy job at all! In the end he produced a really good regression model which predicts whether a tune will be an earworm or not using only 4 musical features and with a prediction rate of at least 72%! – in fact this prediction figure is going up the more tunes we add into his model. He presented his work at Cambridge earlier this year and we will be writing up a paper of his study in the New Year. Sebastian is now a full time PhD student in Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioural Neurobiology at the University of Tübingen and I wish him all the best for his studies.

Lewis presenting his poster (which is actually not the one behind him but the one to his left which you can't see, sadly)
Josh presenting his poster
Sebastian presenting his poster

Well done guys!

One Comment

  • edward hannan

    listen to dr vicky williamson on breakfast tv this morning , subject earwormery. in the world of of the brain, its would be interesting to work with a master practioner, he could remove these tunes , using sub modalities, its the way the music is coded in the brain. we speak digital , the music is digital, I imagine the area within the brain is close to where storage of music an memory is. ive met a few people who are using pop music to re wire the brain after some traumer or injury. I will keep my eye this subject as im a fan of the area of work that you are undertaking. good luck. edward