Music Psychology

Replication in music psychology

Hello dear reader,

1185615_10151864638660991_721243667_nI am writing to you today from my new home in Luzern, Switzerland. In fact, here is a picture of the view from my office just for you!

I am having a wonderful time here so far. The people are all lovely and I have been made to feel very welcome in my new office at the Hochschule Luzern – Musik. I have done a little exploring of the town but I am looking forward to many more outings.

SONY DSCHere are a few facts about Luzern for you from my school’s own guide for international visitors and students. The population is around 77,000 people, of which around 23% are foreigners. The city is built at the foot of Mount Pilatus and on the shores of Lake Luzern, in the German speaking portion of Switzerland. The city features many stunning landmarks such as the Chapel Bridge and the Lion Monument.

Perhaps most importantly for you and me, Luzern is famous for its music. I am looking forward to the upcoming ‘World Band Festival’ and ‘Festival at the Piano’. And of course, I am keen to meet my new students who have opted to take my course on ‘How does the brain process music?’ I am writing the first session for them at the moment and it is great fun to be able to start from scratch, building my own teaching materials.

home_coverTurning topic, this week I heard from my good friend and colleague Dr Daniel Mullensiefen. Apart from a kind email asking about my new life, Daniel was happy to share with me the link to the new edition of Musicae Scientiae, a special issue on the topic of replication in music psychology. I think this is a really important area so I wanted to share a summary of this journal release. Here is the link to the issue in question:

Last year I wrote a series of blogs on the conference ICMPC12, and one featured a session on replication in music psychology. Much of the research in this Musicae Scientiae special issue was presented at this conference and at the time it sparked a lot of interest and debate. Replication is definitely something that we need more of in our discipline in order to ensure we are building our theories on sound empirical foundations.

Of course there is a dark unspoken issue here about academic pride here – no one likes to have their published work questioned. But that is not what replication is about. It is about making sure that results regarding human behaviour or brain activity are robust. It is quite possible to find an effect that is completely genuine and sound in one set of participants but then, for whatever reason, this effect is not reliable enough to replicate in different people.

Maler_der_Grabkammer_des_Nacht_004Such an outcome, failure to replicate, is not necessarily any fault of the original researcher at all. There are many reasons why effects may not replicate, and not even the most careful control can eliminate them all. In general it is extremely valuable for us to know which results are stable and which are less so. It is also possible that effects change over time, especially in our field where music listening habits evolve along with cultural and technological developments.

The MS special issue looks at many ‘classic’ reported effects in our field, which have been cited many times but mostly never replicated in their original form. These include Holbrook & Schindler’s 1989 study on musical preferences, Diana Deutsch’s 1974 study on the Octave Illusion, and Daniel Levitin’s 1994 study on absolute memory for pitch

The issue also features commentaries from the original authors, a nice touch ensuring that this first step in ‘quality management’ within our discipline is balanced with a right to reply from the original contributors.

I am aware that this journal is not open access so many of you may not be able to access the articles directly from the site (I know I can’t from my present location) but you should always consider contacting the corresponding authors to ask for a copy. Abstracts are all free to view (that is what I link to above) and the details of corresponding authors can be found on these pages.

Well, that is it for now. Back to designing my course! I wish you a lovely weekend. I will be heading on my first jaunt into the Swiss mountains. I will take photos to share with you in the next blog.

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