In an attempt to find ways (a) to communicate about my blue-sky research to relevant community audiences, and, conversely, (b) to explore the community-based work in order to understand which of their needs my research might meet, I have attended the inaugural Nordoff-Robbins Plus Conference MUSIC AND COMMUNICATION: Music Therapy and Music Psychology, London 20th Sept. 2013.
In relation to point (a) I have presented two pieces of work as posters (see below for details), and in relation with point (b) I accepted to lead the discussion in one of several groups (and report back to plenary), working around questions that would help developing a common ground between practitioners in music therapy and education and researchers in psychology of music. This has been a dire challenge yet a refreshing and exciting bridge-building exercise!
This research is an international collaboration with Milan-Bicocca University (Psychology Dept.):
Infant attention to vocal or instrumental music at 6 months is mediated by sex
Fabia Franco, Laura D’Odorico & Iryna Kozar
This study is part of an extensive research programme investigating various aspects of the relationship between language and music in infancy (Franco, 2013 submitted). Specifically, the present ongoing study aims to assess whether  different preferences for vocal or instrumental music are observed at different ages during the first year of life,  early preferences for vocal or instrumental music predict language development at 12-14 months, and  different patterns of motor responses are observed in babies while they listen to vocal or instrumental music (e.g., rhythmic patterns).
The first tranche of data concerns 36 infants (18 female) aged 6 months, tested with three melodies (all major mode/fast tempo, 1 minute duration) presented once as instrumental and once as vocal music using non-words (randomised). The preferential listening experiment was run with MATLAB in a soundproof environment.
Results revealed that both overall listening time (p= .046) and mean duration of infants’ listening (p = .02) were significantly longer with vocal than instrumental musical tracks. However, there was a significant sex X type interaction when considering both the duration of the first orientation towards the musical stimulus (p = .02) and the number of distraction episodes (p= .007), with male babies orienting for longer and getting distracted less with vocal than instrumental music and female babies displaying longer orientation and fewer distraction episodes with instrumental music. Other measures concerned frequency of smiles and vocalizations and visual checking with the parent.
The results suggest early sex differences in music attending, with males but not females presenting an early orientation to music associated with speech-like patterns. A follow- up at 14 months is planned to regress the 6-month listening measures against language development measures.
This is a collaboration with Joel Swaine (a community musician affiliated to the Centre for Music & Science at the University of Cambridge) – Kasia graduated with a 1st class degree with us last year:
Mood-matching music improves cognitive performance in adults and preschoolers
Fabia Franco, Joel Swaine & Kasia Zaborowska
Many studies either supported or failed to support Rauscher et al.’s (1993) original findings of enhanced cognitive performance after listening to a Mozart sonata. In a subsequent wave of studies, Schellenberg and colleagues supported their hypothesis that the ‘Mozart effect’ is produced by the positively arousing effects of fast, upbeat music (see Schellenberg, 2012).
We tested a novel, alternative hypothesis that cognitive performance would be enhanced by exposure to music whose perceived expressive characteristics are congruent with a participant’s mood, and, conversely, would be hampered (or unaffected) by music that is mood-incongruent.
Experiment 1 involved 94 adults screened for mood. Two moods with opposite valence but similar arousal profiles were selected (happy vs. angry). Participants in each mood group were randomly assigned to a mood-congruent (e.g., angry/angry) or -incongruent (e.g., angry/happy) music condition. Before and after music exposure, participants completed an automated visual digit span memory test.
Experiment 2 involved 30 3-5-year-olds. A mood induction procedure with cartoon video clips was used with the children, and mood/music congruence was tested for ‘happy’ vs. ‘sad’ moods. Children’s memory was tested using an online matching game with the same before/after design used with adults.
In both experiments, music had been composed ad hoc and validated.
The mood-matching hypothesis was supported by the results, showing improved cognitive performance with respect to baseline only following exposure to music that was congruent with participants’ moods (i.e., improved performance was associated with exposure to ‘angry’ music in angry participants, but to ‘sad’ music in ‘sad’ participants). The effect was moderated by gender in the adult study, with women, not men, showing the mood-matching effect.
Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365 (6447), 611.
Schellenberg, E. G. (2012). Cognitive performance after listening to music: a review of the Mozart effect. In MacDonald, R., Kreutz, G., & Mitchell, L. (eds.), Music, health, and wellbeing (pp. 324-338). Oxford: Oxford University Press.