Prof. discusses music, thought

When someone hears a door slam, they undergo a series of unconscious thought processes to evaluate the sound. Most people never really stop to ponder the thinking involved — but Ohio State University professor David Huron devotes his job to it.

The music department, in collaboration with the psychology department and the School of Music, launched a four-part lecture series on Tuesday night titled “How Music Makes Us Feel: The Psychology of Auditory Affect,” which will focus on how music and the brain interact.

Huron, who is delivering the lectures, talked about sound’s effect on emotion at Tuesday night’s lecture, “The Good, the Bad, and the Sublime.”

“Music wouldn’t exist without positive emotional response,” he said. “Art has no predefined purpose. Art can challenge us … it can even insult us.”

Huron also said that when people think of music, they often think of how their brains react to it.

“When you go up to a person on the street and ask them why they like music, nine times out of 10 they will say something like ‘I like the way it makes me feel,’” he said.

Huron also discussed the thought processes that occur when people hear sounds. When humans hear wind slam a door, they first have a reflexive response, such as jumping in surprise, he said. This thought process culminates with the critical response, in which a person thinks about the effects of the wind shutting the door, he said.

But this same sound can cause a completely different critical response when another person slams the door: In this situation, people would consider why the other person is angry rather than why the wind would shut the door, he said.

Patrick McCreless, professor of music theory and chair of the music department, said Huron is one of today’s eminent scholars in the field that combines music and cognition and represents a new trend in that area of study. Years ago, McCreless said, psychologists performed research studying the brain’s reaction to music. But since the researchers did not know very much about music, the studies were musically irrelevant, he said. Now, more musicians are studying in this area, and the results of their research have more useful applications to music, McCreless said.

Many students said they are excited about the series.

Adam Young-Valdovinos ’10, who attended the lecture because he loves music, said he is very interested in the topic.

“As an avid listener of music, I thought it was an interesting topic to hear about,” he said. “I wanted to know why we feel the way we do when we listen to music.”

The lecture series, which will continue on Tuesday nights in Sudler Hall until December, will focus on “Anticipation and Surprise,” “Many Musical Worlds” and “Making Music Come Alive.”

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