Music Psychology

New discoveries from 2016

Hello Dear Reader,

Happy 2017! I hope that you enjoyed the festive celebrations over the past few weeks with a view to a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. I was fortunate enough to celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s Eve with close family and on the latter occasion to enjoy the rare sight of my mother in law getting a little tipsy on red wine and throwing streamers around the room. It’s the little things that make for lasting precious memories!

My husband and I also enjoyed our much anticipated ‘big reveal’, finally telling the world (i.e. Facebook and Twitter after telling our close friends and families) that we are expecting a little girl in early May. In the UK your final scheduled scan during a normal pregnancy is at 20-21 weeks and we had ours just before Christmas. It was the best present ever. Thankfully all looks well so far.

I can feel my daughter kicking and growing stronger every day. I am full of excitement (a little fear, but mostly joy) for this new phase of our lives. Life may not always work out the way you plan – this has been said and felt by many people in 2016 – but despite the knocks and shocks we can guarantee two things; there will always be change and new discoveries along the way, and there will always be hope.

On the theme of ‘new discoveries’, I recently came across an absorbing article on the BBC news website that revealed 100 things we have learned in 2016.  These included facts like:

  • Fish can recognise human faces
  • Exercising four hours after learning can help you remember information
  • Only about half of perceived friendships are mutual
  • Mosquitoes carrying malaria are repelled by chickens
  • Three British and three Dutch World War Two ships have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea
  • Rainbows can also occur at night

And finally one for my dear husband who delights at the madness of the UK train ticket pricing system….

  • There are at least 42 different fares for rail travel between London Euston and Birmingham, ranging from £6 to £119

This article got me thinking. What have we discovered in the world of music psychology in 2016?

A review is always an enjoyable and rewarding experience so I decided to look back over my email alerts for new papers and to pull out some new findings for you. If you would like to receive these emails (1-2 per month) then all you have to do is register on the Mariani Foundation website.

Please note that I have not spent hours agonizing over papers to select and there are no biases involved or implied in this summary, except I have not listed my own papers on principle. If you would like to see what I have been up to this year then you can visit my Media or Publications pages.

Like the BBC article this blog is not meant to provide a ‘top findings’ list, but rather a broad coverage of the kind of great research that is going on in our field of music psychology. Consider my summary to be a light review of the ‘state of the art’, and treat it as a prompt for those next steps that will move us all closer to understanding the power of music on our minds and bodies.

I have included links to all the articles that prompted the findings. Sadly not all will be free to access for you all, but remember you can always contact the corresponding author on a paper (name and address should be listed) and ask for a personal copy for educational purposes.

So…what do we know now that we did not know in 2015…

  • Personalized music therapy based on spectrally altered classical music can be effective in reducing subjective tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Infants who experience a parent singing to them look longer at a new person who sings the same melody than at a new person who sings an unfamiliar melody, and the amount of song exposure at home predicted the size of that preference. Neither effect happens, however, when infants hear the song from a toy or from a socially unrelated person, despite all these infants’ remarkable memory for the familiar melody more than 8 months later. These findings suggest that melodies produce live by known social partners carry special social meaning for infants
  • A systematic review of randomized controlled trials conducted to date on the impacts of music on premature infants has revealed that whilst some music interventions show promising results in some studies, the variation in quality of the studies, age groups, outcome measures and timing of the interventions across the studies makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions on the effects of music in premature infants. Overall, the jury is still out on this one…(i.e. lots of space for good new studies!)
  • Live music performance really can have a different impact on the human heart. An audience’s heart rate was found to be higher for a faster than a slower piece only in a live performance condition as compared to listening to the same music via a recording. Furthermore, in response to live music the audience’s sympathovagal balance was less while their vagal nervous system was activated more, which suggests that sharing ongoing musical moments with a live performer reduces an audience’s physiological stress.

There you go. Not an exhaustive list of new findings by any means but something to wet your appetite for learning and for the possibilities of the future. I feel like I have learned a lot just working on this list and I hope that you find it inspiring as well. Here’s to another year of great discoveries. Come on Dear Reader, let’s have a great 2017 🙂


  • Dan L-W

    ‘… sharing ongoing musical moments with a live performer reduces an audience’s physiological stress.’ Ha! If only that were equally true for the performer. But thanks for the digest, and happy new year, and *good luck*!