US Mountain Time
Sam Mehr, Harvard University

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Abstract: What do humans understand about the music they hear? In this talk I will present work demonstrating that music can reliably signal information to listeners, as evidenced by explicit and implicit responses to unfamiliar foreign music in studies of adults, children, and infants. These findings suggest the possibility of basic systems of representation that facilitate listeners' understanding of music. Two important candidates are a system for tonal perception, which contextualizes pitch input in reference to a hierarchy of tones; and a system for metrical perception, which contextualizes temporal input in reference to a hierarchy of rhythmic groupings. Tonal and metrical perception appear to be universal, early-developing, encapsulated, supported by distinct genetic and neural correlates, and uniquely human. These systems, when combined with each other and with higher-level musical structures (such as harmony, timbre, etc), and used in conjunction with other domains of human cognition including auditory (but non-musical) perception, social cognition, and language, yield a human psychology of music.

Research Collaboration
SFI Host: 
Anjali Bhatt