Music Cognition

A shortened version of this article will appear in the next Psychology in Action Newsletter.

One of the most fascinating and quickly growing subareas of psychology and the cognitive sciences is music cognition, the interdisciplinary study of how the brain processes and perceives music.  Music cognition is driven primarily by the perception of tempo and pitch, as well as the important concept of expectation. Continue reading


What is Cognitive Science?

This article originally appeared in the Psychology in Action Newsletter (Issue 5, Part B).

If you’re in an introductory psychology class, you’ve probably learned about Freud, Skinner, and Piaget, who were profoundly important in the foundations of psychology. But you probably haven’t heard much about Noam Chomsky or Allen Newell, although both of these people have made important contributions to the study of the human mind. Psychology is a broad and diverse field, but psychologists are not the only researchers who study the fascinating abilities of the mind.

Over the course of the 20th century, expert thinkers began developing more complete theories of the mind than previously existed. Researchers from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, computer science, and linguistics began to bridge the gaps between their areas of expertise. Together they formed the foundation of cognitive science––an interdisciplinary movement to connect ideas and findings from different fields into comprehensive theories.

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Synesthesia: When Ordinary Activities Trigger Extraordinary Sensations

Many of us have had the experience of unusual associations between our senses and our memories.  Perhaps a certain smell unexpectedly reminds you of a grandparent, or certain foods evoke memories of old friends.  Associations between memories and sensory experience are normal, but about 4% of the population experiences a condition called synesthesia in which normal sensory experiences – like reading, talking, or listening to music – cause them to experience additional unusual and unrelated sensations.  For example, people with lexical-gustatory synesthesia experience complex tastes when they hear certain words or letters.  One such subject says that the word “jail” tastes like cold hard bacon, and the sound of the letter “L” can taste like potatoes, fingernails, or Rice Krispies, depending on how it is pronounced (Simner, 2006).
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