Reader and co-director of the MSc in Music, Mind and Brain
+44 (0)20 7919 7195
+44 (0)20 7919 7873
Room 202/3 Whitehead Building
Department of Psychology
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross, London, SE14 6NW
Stewart, L. Investigating Involntary Cognition via Spontaneous Musical Imagery. Leverhulme Trust (2012 - 2015). £250K
Stewart, L. Fractionating the Musical Mind: Insights from Congenital Amusia. Economic and Social Research Council (2008-2011). £400K
My current research falls broadly within the three following areas:
The idea that we have full control over our thought processes is an illusion. Proust, for instance, discusses a childhood memory, triggered by the taste of a madeleine cookie and numerous examples of spontaneous involuntary cognitions abound. Although such experiences are valuable hallmarks of our inner mental life, these phenomena do not easily lend themselves to scientific study. However, based on our recent pilot work, it is clear that one type of spontaneous, involuntary cognition – namely, the ‘tune in the head phenomenon’ - holds particular promise for empirical study. Such episodes of spontaneous musical imagery (SMI) are vivid, can be described in detail and affect 90% of the population at least once a week. As part of a collaboration with the BBC, my research team has developed an online survey instrument (http://earwormery.com/) and collected several thousand reports of SMI episodes. The project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will apply a combination of experimental psychology, computational and cognitive neuroscience approaches to address fundamental questions concerning the content, function and neurobiological origins of SMI experiences.
A small percentage of the population report a lifelong failure to recognize familiar tunes or tell one tune from another, frequently complain that music sounds like a “din” and often avoid the many social situations in which music plays a crucial role. Such individuals, termed ‘congenitally amusic’, have lifelong difficulties with music and perform poorly on a standardized battery of musical listening tasks (Peretz, 2003). This disorder provides us with the opportunity to investigate the cognitive architecture of music, and its relation to other domains, such as language and spatial cognition. Using a large group of congenitally amusic individuals, recruited via an online musical listening test (www.delosis.com/listening/home.html), my present research aims to elucidate precisely which perceptual and cognitive mechanisms are at fault in amusia, whether disordered musical processing has implications for language and the extent to which such difficulties can impact upon sociocultural and affective functioning. This work is carried out in collaboration with Professor Tim Griffiths at Newcastle University and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Professional pianists must bimanually co-ordinate the production of up to 1800 notes per minute, integrate auditory and sensori-motor information and constantly monitor for errors in performance. The development of these cognitive abilities is the result of intense practise from an early age and provides an ideal model for investigating learning-induced plasticity. My work has focused specifically on the acquisition of musical literacy, asking questions about the cognitive representation of musical notation and the changes that occur in the brain as musical notation goes from being an impenetrable jumble of dots and lines, into a meaningful code for performance. I am currently interested in examining auditory-motor interactions in trained musicians.
Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, UK
Telephone: + 44 (0)20 7919 7171
Goldsmiths has charitable status