Research Topic

Music Cognition II

About this Research Topic

Music, its power over us, its functions in cognition, its origins and evolution, remains a scientific mystery. 2400 years ago Aristotle asked “why music, just mere sounds, remind states of soul?” Kant was not able to explain and account for music: “it merely plays with senses.” Darwin considered music “the greatest mystery.” Today, contemporary thinkers, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and musicologists cannot explain music. Pinker, following Kant, has suggested that music is “auditory cheesecake,” that just happens to “tickle the sensitive spots.” In 2008 Nature published a series of essays on music. Their authors agreed that “none… has yet been able to answer the fundamental question: why does music have such power over us?” “Music is a human cultural universal that serves no obvious adaptive purpose, making its evolution a puzzle for evolutionary biologists.”

Animal voices appear to unify emotional and semantic content. Humans can consciously differentiate the two. Is it related to the origins of music and language? Is human music similar to birdsong? Was music origin and evolution driven by sexual selection, like peacock tails? Is music an “honest signal”?

Did music and cognition evolve jointly? What are cognitive functions of music? Is music similar to language in some way, or is this a misleading analogy? Did music originate along with language or are these abilities unrelated in their evolution? What has been the role of language prosody in this evolution? Is music in different cultures related to the languages of these cultures? What does brain imaging and psychological data suggest about relations between language and music?

We welcome papers on evolutionary directions that help provide potential understanding of the historical evolution of music. Some researchers suggest that historical changes in musical styles are random statistical variations. Others establish relations between musical styles and historical cultural changes. Arguments from each side are welcome.

What is the origin of musical consonances and dissonances? Helmholtz suggested that they originate from mechanical properties of the ear and therefore are fundamental to human perception of music. Other researchers consider them subjective qualities of relationships assigned to music intervals, and therefore fundamentally dependent on cultural background. What empirical evidence exists in support of these views?

Many people listen to music because of the emotions it evokes. Are there specific emotions related to music? How can these emotions be measured? Why do people enjoy sad music? Some researchers insist that every musical phrase by every significant composer evokes a different emotion related to the corresponding cognitive dissonance. Others insist that there are only a few fundamentally different emotions evoked by music, and they are not different in principle from other emotions. Can musical emotions be related to brain images? Do regions of brain or brain networks code musical emotions? If musical emotions are subjective and depend on individual psychological states, is averaging over individuals a valid experimental procedure? How might we measure qualities of musical emotions objectively? Is this a great mystery for experimental psychology?

We also invite scholars addressing wide areas of music cognition including psychology of music education, music therapy, musical features in speech, application of music in sport training and physical exercises social aspects of influence of musical emotions, direction of development of Western music (including popular music), musical universals across different musical cultures, the contribution of specific acoustic attributes of music (timbre, melodic intervals, rhythm) to music syntax.

Music cognition is thus full of mysteries, and we welcome papers addressing any aspect of this topic.

This Research Topic seeks to build upon the research presented in its previous installment, Music Cognition.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Music, its power over us, its functions in cognition, its origins and evolution, remains a scientific mystery. 2400 years ago Aristotle asked “why music, just mere sounds, remind states of soul?” Kant was not able to explain and account for music: “it merely plays with senses.” Darwin considered music “the greatest mystery.” Today, contemporary thinkers, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and musicologists cannot explain music. Pinker, following Kant, has suggested that music is “auditory cheesecake,” that just happens to “tickle the sensitive spots.” In 2008 Nature published a series of essays on music. Their authors agreed that “none… has yet been able to answer the fundamental question: why does music have such power over us?” “Music is a human cultural universal that serves no obvious adaptive purpose, making its evolution a puzzle for evolutionary biologists.”

Animal voices appear to unify emotional and semantic content. Humans can consciously differentiate the two. Is it related to the origins of music and language? Is human music similar to birdsong? Was music origin and evolution driven by sexual selection, like peacock tails? Is music an “honest signal”?

Did music and cognition evolve jointly? What are cognitive functions of music? Is music similar to language in some way, or is this a misleading analogy? Did music originate along with language or are these abilities unrelated in their evolution? What has been the role of language prosody in this evolution? Is music in different cultures related to the languages of these cultures? What does brain imaging and psychological data suggest about relations between language and music?

We welcome papers on evolutionary directions that help provide potential understanding of the historical evolution of music. Some researchers suggest that historical changes in musical styles are random statistical variations. Others establish relations between musical styles and historical cultural changes. Arguments from each side are welcome.

What is the origin of musical consonances and dissonances? Helmholtz suggested that they originate from mechanical properties of the ear and therefore are fundamental to human perception of music. Other researchers consider them subjective qualities of relationships assigned to music intervals, and therefore fundamentally dependent on cultural background. What empirical evidence exists in support of these views?

Many people listen to music because of the emotions it evokes. Are there specific emotions related to music? How can these emotions be measured? Why do people enjoy sad music? Some researchers insist that every musical phrase by every significant composer evokes a different emotion related to the corresponding cognitive dissonance. Others insist that there are only a few fundamentally different emotions evoked by music, and they are not different in principle from other emotions. Can musical emotions be related to brain images? Do regions of brain or brain networks code musical emotions? If musical emotions are subjective and depend on individual psychological states, is averaging over individuals a valid experimental procedure? How might we measure qualities of musical emotions objectively? Is this a great mystery for experimental psychology?

We also invite scholars addressing wide areas of music cognition including psychology of music education, music therapy, musical features in speech, application of music in sport training and physical exercises social aspects of influence of musical emotions, direction of development of Western music (including popular music), musical universals across different musical cultures, the contribution of specific acoustic attributes of music (timbre, melodic intervals, rhythm) to music syntax.

Music cognition is thus full of mysteries, and we welcome papers addressing any aspect of this topic.

This Research Topic seeks to build upon the research presented in its previous installment, Music Cognition.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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06 April 2018 Manuscript

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

06 April 2018 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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