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PhD place at Goldsmiths Music, Mind and Brain lab

Hi All,

This week I am posting about a unique PhD opportunity that is coming up in my lab (Music, Mind and Brain), to work with me and my boss on our earworm project. You can read more about our project by glancing through my previous blogs (put ‘earworm’ into the search box above) or by looking at our uni site or our online data collection point.

The job post details are as follows:

Goldsmiths, University of London

PhD Studentship Investigating Spontaneous Musical Imagery (Earworms)

Goldsmiths, University of London – Psychology

Applications are invited for a PhD Studentship starting in September 2012 to undertake research on Spontaneous Musical Imagery (or ‘earworms’), as part of a three year grant awarded by the Leverhulme Trust to Dr Lauren Stewart and in collaboration with Dr Daniel Müllensiefen and Dr Vicky Williamson at the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Spontaneous, involuntary cognitions such as the ‘tune in the head’ phenomenon are both vivid and prevalent. They are valuable hallmarks of our inner mental life, yet they have been typically regarded as beyond the reach of scientific investigation. Building on pilot work carried out in collaboration with the BBC radio station, 6Music, the proposed project will apply a combination of experimental psychology, computational and cognitive neuroscience approaches to address fundamental questions concerning the content, possible function and neurobiological origins of spontaneous musical imagery in order to formulate a causal model of this most prevalent form of spontaneous involuntary cognition.

Candidates should have a good degree (2:1 or above) in Psychology, Neuroscience, or a related field. Experience with experimental psychology approaches and/or computational methods and/or functional imaging is essential.

The studentship will cover tuition fees (at UK/EU rates) and a stipend (£15,590 per year).

Note: The studentship will not cover full international fees as it is capped at UK/EU rates. Interantional students can apply for the post, but would be responsible for the difference between UK/EU and international fees. Contact Goldsmiths admissions for more details.

To apply please email a CV (2 pages maximum) and a Statement of Interest (Why are you interested in this topic? What relevant skills do you bring to the project? (1 page maximum) to Dr Lauren Stewart ( by Thursday 31 May 2012.


  • Ben

    Hey Vicky,
    Do many opportunities like this one come up? I am planning on doing a masters degree in Music Psychology after completing my current B.A in Music Technology. I am really keen on then continuing to pursue a PhD. In your experience, how likely/easy it is to get an opportunity like the one you list here, in the U.K or worldwide?

  • vicky

    Hi Ben
    It is really impossible to give you a number as it really depends on the financial climate, grant calls, staff movements, etc. In general there are at least 4-5 PhD opportunities like this every year at the moment as music psychology grows, but they are hugely competitive; this opportunity generated nearly 100 applicants. So my advice would be to go the extra mile to make yourself stand out in the crowd: get lab experience, make good contacts at conferences and meetings, and think carefully about your masters thesis in music psychology (many people use this as a basis for a PhD proposal). And, if you can, apply for your own grant for a PhD – then you can do the PhD that you really want to do rather than simply work on someone else’s project.

  • Bernd Willimek

    Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek