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'Music and Mind in Everyday Life'
by Eric Clarke (Heather Professor of Music at Oxford), Nicola Dibben and Stephanie Pitts | 11 Feb 10
No human culture has been discovered that does not have music, and in many societies music is ever-present and incessant.
So why do we
spend so much time engaged with music, what impact does it have on
people's lives, and how can psychological research shed light on this
human obsession? Music and Mind in Everyday Life
co-authored by Eric Clarke, Heather Professor of Music, tackles these
The research uses real examples of music's impact and function ranging from the use of music at Princess Diana's funeral, to the distribution of a free CD of classical music to all new mothers in the state of Georgia because playing it would 'make their babies smarter.'
Professor Eric Clarke believes the increasing presence of music in people's lives is a striking feature of the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries - increasingly so in a digital age with rapidly developing internet and mobile listening technologies. He believes music has a powerful impact at both individual and social levels, and this book uses a wide range of psychological principles to understand that phenomenon.
The book draws on theoretical and practical research by the three co-authors (Professor Clarke and former colleagues from the University of Sheffield), as well as research from wider literature in the psychology of music. The authors' research included studies of the detailed characteristics of expressive musical performance, the impact of in-car music on driving, audience engagement with live music, music and personal identity, the role of physiological arousal in emotional responses to music, the development of children's musical skills and identities, and the relationship of music perception - and hearing more generally - to musical meaning.
Books asked Professor Clarke about his research.
Why do you think music has increasingly become such an important part in people's everyday lives?
Availability is a significant factor - never before have we had such easy access to so much music. While there's a danger this availability could become overwhelming and deadening, it does mean huge numbers of people can discover whole areas of music that were previously the preserve of a tiny few - or completely unknown. This demonstrates the incredibly important role that music has always played in human culture and we discuss the diverse reasons for that.
It isn’t possible to reduce it to a simple formula but our research shows that people use music in quite skilled ways as an emotional regulator in a variety of contexts. We found that music is a very powerful part of many people's sense of their own identity, and plugs into some extremely deep-seated and developmentally fundamental aspects of infant communication and our sense of the auditory world around us.
Can you give us a few examples of this?
It's striking that the human auditory system develops very early - it's fully functioning by halfway through pregnancy. And there's lots of evidence that the foetus hears a good deal for the remaining weeks before birth - particularly its own mother's voice, but also sounds and music. Immediately after birth an infant responds differently to the sound of its mother's voice than other voices - which has obvious adaptive value - but interestingly will also show a preference for musical sounds that have certain kinds of phrase shapes and expressive properties.
At the other end of the lifespan, music is often an important and remarkably resilient capacity at the end of people's lives, as is evident not only from the way in which composers and performers continue being active into their 90s or more (composer Elliott Carter is over 100), but also in the use of music therapy in the care of the elderly and those with degenerative and terminal illnesses.
Why does this area of research interest you?
I've always been attracted to and involved with a variety of music, but have equally always been fascinated by the human mind and brain - in fact as a child I'd always imagined I'd end up in the biological sciences. So doing research in the psychology of music - and I'm just about to get involved in a collaboration with a neuroscientist here in Oxford - has been a fantastic way for me to combine those two sides. I've been lucky to work many extremely stimulating people and to be involved in an area of research that is endlessly fascinating in its own right, and makes a pretty direct link with the powerful experiences of millions of people all over the world. You can't get better than that!'
Music and Mind in Everyday Life' was published by Oxford University Press in 2010