Music Psychology

What is music psychology? : At the Open University

I have been shamefully absent from my blog for a week or so… I have been moving into my new flat. So life has been fairly manic! But today I am out of London and in Brighton at the University of Sussex doing the first of my two weeks at the Open University Residential Summer schools.

The Open University is a world class distance learning university that is based in the UK. They currently offer over 570 courses that can count towards more than 200 qualifications – everything from introduction courses, to transfer diplomas, full degrees and beyond. The Open Programme is a unique, flexible and highly respected programme of study that allows students to build on their existing qualifications using courses from any of a number of undergraduate subject areas.

I am a tutor on course DD303 – Cognitive Psychology. As part of this course students must attend residential school for a week. Here they put all their theoretical knowledge about experimental design in cognitive psychology to use in developing and running an experimental project that they have designed themselves – with a little help from their tutor  🙂

Day 2 here and things are going well. My group is a lovely bunch and they are all doing experiments looking at the False Memory Effect (sometimes better known as the DRM paradigm). Luckily for me they are all interested in slightly different things, with manipulations like timing of list presentation, modality, recall vs. recognition and even alphabetic controls being used by the various groups. I think they will be absolutely fine and I look forward to seeing their results.

As part of my job as tutor here I also give a lecture on what I do in my ‘normal life’ (note: OU life is not normal!). So I will give my standard lecture which is called ‘What is Music Psychology?’ It tends to go down well as very few of the students have even heard of music psychology (which is the case nearly everywhere I go!).

The lecture starts with a little background on why studying music psychology is interesting/ important. Then the main sections of the talk, plus some of their components are:

1)      Music acquisition

  • Work of Sloboda, Howe and Davidson (1991) on enculturation and the 10,000 hours theory of music expertise.
  • Some method notes on how to test infants
  • A timeline of typical musical development

2)      Music and emotion

  • Distinction between emotion and mood
  • How does music trigger emotions? (importance of speech-like cues in music and musical expectation)
  • Blood and Zatorre PET study (2001) of musical emotion in the brain and Schmidt & Trainor (2001) EEG study on brain responses to emotion in music.

3)      Music and the brain

4)      Effects of music participation/listening

  • Examples of positive behavioural transfer effects from music listening (short-term benefits, or lack of) and music practice (long-term benefits)

And that’s it. Hopefully it will go down as well this year as it did last year. I am on at 7pm on Thursday so keep them crossed for me then. I will also put in a plug at the end to get the students to go to and take part the MMB research project!


Sloboda, Howe & Davidson (1991) INNATE GIFTS AND TALENTS: REALITY OR MYTH?

Blood & Zatorre (2001) Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion

Schmidt & Trainor (2001) Frontal brain electrical activity (EEG) distinguishes valence and intensity of musical emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 15, 487-500.


  • vicky

    Hi. Yes I dont mind if you quote my blog. Many thanks for asking. I am not on twitter at the moment but I hope to get around to making an account soon. I will add it to the blog when I do.

  • Gustavo Borchert

    Hi Victoria… I really find your blog very helpful. I am a musician, with a BA in music performance (percussion) and a MA in psychology. My studies in psychology are mainly focused on what in some countries they would call political psychology, or psychology with emphasis in politics (not clinical!). I am now searching for a PhD program that would have a place for a candidate with my academic profile. In general, my work articulates the musical aesthetic experience, the body and space-time in contemporary capitalism. Would you have any suggestion regarding any programs related to my interest? Thank for any help that you can provide! Sincerely,