The Music & Science Lab hosts an active community of postdocs and PhD students who are investigating a broad range of topics from chills and emotional priming, to musical ability and harmony perception. Read more about several current and past projects below:

Understanding emotion perception through music

Ms. Annaliese Micallef Grimaud

January 2018 – January 2021

The main goal of my research is to study the relationship between music and perceived emotions; in particular, identifying which properties in the structural parameters and emotional cues of a musical composition contribute to the conveying of different perceived emotional expressions. A subsidiary aim is to tackle the musical stimuli familiarity bias and ecological validity issues identified in previous studies. The creation of new musical pieces to be used as stimuli will eliminate or decrease the impact of both issues. Furthermore, a computer interface that allows for live manipulation of particular musical parameters has been specifically programmed for the research. This interface is used for analysis-by-synthesis experiments, where participants are in charge of changing the way music sounds in order to make it express a particular emotion, with the aim of understanding better how changes in the structure of a musical composition affect the perception of emotional expressions.

Selected conference presentations:

Micallef Grimaud, Annaliese (2019), EmoteControl: An Application for Live Manipulation of Emotional Cues in Music, 2019 Combined BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference. Sheffield, England.

Rethinking Structures of Musical Emotion: A Psychological Ethnography of Emotion in Qawwali Congregants

Mr. Thomas Graves

September 2019-

Thomas’ research brings together methods from ethnomusicology and music psychology to examine the emotional experiences of listeners at mahfil-e-samā’ (religious gatherings for listening to qawwālī) in North India.  Qawwālī is a Sufi music closely related to the khyāl style of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music. Sufism refers to the mystical dimension of Islam.

His approach is to use ethnographic fieldwork (participant observation and interview) as a basis for designing field experiments. The most salient question for his research is “How relevant are theories of musical emotion (mostly developed in Europe and North America) to the religious, functional context of qawwālī?” Due to the altered states of consciousness (ahwāl, singular hāl) sometimes exhibited during these gatherings, and the importance often placed on the poetic texts “read” (parhna) by qawwāls, much of his research is also concerned with the relationship between emotional experience and altered consciousness, and the relevance of lyrics to musical emotion. 

Performing from memory: developing memorisation techniques in piano pedagogy and examining how could this improve piano performance

Mrs. Chara Steliou

February 2020 – February 2026

The main purpose of my research is to examine how piano students under the age of eighteen memorise music; in particular this study aims to 1) develop a practically and empirically informed set of piano memorisation techniques, 2) compare the developed memorisation techniques to a memorisation method reliant on muscle memory (procedural memory consolidated through repetition of a piece) and 3)  investigate whether the developed techniques improve three aspects of music performance; MPA, expressive communication and confidence. 

The main experiment of this research will take place at Nord Anglia International School, Dubai where I am currently working. The developed set of piano memorisation techniques will be taught to a certain number of piano students over a school year. A comparison between the group of piano students who memorised with the developed set of memorisation techniques and another group which memorised by muscle memory will be made using a physiology response kit.

The three main research questions are as follows:

1. Can the developed series of piano memorisation techniques improve piano performance?

2. If yes, how can these techniques reduce MPA and lack of confidence and improve expressive communication?

3. What is the difference between a muscle memory prepared piece compared to a piece that is prepared with the suggested techniques?

Causally Testing Theories of Musical Chills

Mr. Scott Bannister

September 2016 – September 2019

The first aim of this doctoral project on the musical chills phenomenon is to offer the first attempts at causally manipulating and testing the experience, to assess existing theories as to why they might occur. For example, musical chills have been linked to fear responses, and this project aims to manipulate musical and acoustic parameters that may elicit this psychological process, and consequently the chills experience. The causal manipulation of the response has been shown to be possible in this project, and further work is being carried out to assess the full potential of this approach.

The second, related aim of the research is to better understand the current conceptualisation of musical chills, both in terms of their emotional qualities, and whether the chills construct refers to a general indicator of peak pleasure, or distinct categories of chills, distinguished by phenomenological differences and underlying induction mechanisms. This is derived from the inability of any single theory of musical chills to encapsulate and sufficiently explain the wide range of relationships documented between chills and musical features and characteristics. At the project’s conclusion, a central, planned output will be a theoretical framework that documents distinct categories of musical chills, alongside the implications for interpreting existing research, and carrying out future work.

This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, through the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership.

Selected publications:

Bannister, S. (2018). A survey into the experience of musically induced chills: Emotions, situations and musicPsychology of Music. [Online First publication].

Bannister, S., and Eerola, T. (2018). Suppressing the chills: Effects of musical manipulation on the chills responseFrontiers in Psychology, 9: 2046.

The fundamentals of emotional responses to music: Cross-cultural comparison of variations caused by harmonic elements of music using self-reports and psychophysiology

Dr. George Athanasopoulos

July 2018- September 2019

This purpose of this COFUND/Marie Curie Action project is to explore how different cultures appear to place dissimilar weight on aspects of music which may carry emotional content.  The aim is to research the emotional impact of

  1. the harmonic context of music on self-reported levels of affect, taking into consideration the participants’ culture and musical training and engagement, and
  2. the manipulation of specific parameters of real music samples on behavioural and physiological responses to targeted manipulations of tempo, pitch and loudness of traditional folk music originating from the participants’ own background cultures.

Fieldwork research will be conducted on site in the United Kingdom and abroad, taking into consideration the participants’ culture and musical training. Overall, the changes appearing in the perceived (self-reported) emotional states that the participants can identify in the music tracks, as well as in their felt (physiological) state, may shed light into how the manipulation of specific parameters affect emotional content from a cross-cultural perspective, and emphasize the role of participants’ culture in emotion-based music experiments.