May 3, 2011

Music Psychology: Songs and Science

Print More

For Krumhansl, her “lifelong interest in music” and the interdisciplinary aspect of the research attracts her to the field of music perception and cognition. She hopes to understand the cognitive capacity of humans through our “immense ability to remember and perform music,” through studies of various aspects of music, including recognition, influence of visual input in performances, and differences in perceptiveness among different races. One of her many interests lie in music recognition. In one study, Krumhansl investigated how much music Cornell students need to hear before they recognize a song. The result was that within 400  milliseconds of a song starting, the students were able to name the artist and title more than 25% of the time. They were also able to judge which decade (from the 1960s to contemporary music), emotional content (happy, sad, anger, fearful, or tender), and style, suggesting that people have detailed memory for many songs. One of the study’s findings showed students preferred songs from earlier decades, like the ’60s and ’70s, despite previous research that shows people tend to prefer music that was released in early adulthood. Krumhansl planned a follow-up study to further investigate this question in detail. She hopes to study recognition of hit songs over the last five decades with listeners who were college age over those five decades. In another study, Krumhansl and Jennifer Huang ’10 researched the effect observing a musical performance has on listeners.  She aimed to explore why people buy expensive concert tickets when they could easily get better quality recordings of the artist through digital media.     Apparently, seeing the performance generally “enhances the appreciating of the structural features of music, the emotional content, and overall evaluation of the performance, but this depends on the style of the music and the degree of stage behavior” the performer shows, Krumhansl found. Even without watching the performance, in a study Krumhansl conducted in conjunction with Eastman School of Music, the participants judged a classical piano performance by Prof. Xak Bjerken, music, using the degree of “stage behavior” as minimal, normal or exaggerated. Stage behavior refers to the movement of the performer and its visual and auditory effects on the audience.  Krumhansl conducted another study which aimed to correlate race with pitch. In order to see if Asians are more likely to have absolute pitch compared to other races she compared the performance of Asians and Caucasians on a pitch and rhythm learning test. The results showed that while Asians do indeed have an advantage on the pitch test, they did not for the rhythm test. Further experiments eliminated the possibility that the Asians’ pitch advantage is due to speaking a tone language (in which the meaning of words depends on the pitch pattern). From her varied and unique research, Krumhansl hopes to learn more about the human brain’s cognitive abilities. “Music psychology is a field that few people know exists,” she said. Still, she encourages students to pursue studying music psychology and cognition.

Original Author: Yoshiko Toyoda