OSS9100 – Psychology of Music

Course content

Music is a cultural signature of our species, appearing frequently in daily life, across human societies, and throughout our history with striking diversity. Why are we musical? How is the human mind designed to perceive and produce music? Do we differ from other animals in this respect? Is music a "universal language", as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote nearly 200 years ago? In this course, an in-depth introduction to the psychology of music, we will answer all of these questions and more.

We will focus on recent advances in the field, including new findings on the universality and diversity of music across cultures; infants' and children's developing music perception and music production abilities; the evolution of musicality; studies of music-like behaviors in nonhuman animals; extremes of musical abilities, from musical disorders to musical prodigies; the neuroscience and genetics of music perception; roles of music in human social cognition; and more. Particular attention will be paid to leading-edge methods such as multi-site cross-cultural studies of perception, big data approaches to corpus research on music, eye tracking, psychophysiology, citizen science research, music informatics, and more. The course readings are intentionally skewed toward very recent publications.

Students will be encouraged to address major questions in the field, with opportunities to design their own experiments (especially using web-based methods); some students may wish to carry out these experiments in the academic year following the Summer School, and this will be encouraged, so as to provide a direct application of the content covered in the course.

Learning outcome

By the end of the course, students will:

  • understand current knowledge in the psychology of music
  • be articulate in the major issues and unanswered questions in the field
  • design an experiment testing one of those unanswered questions
  • connect issues in the psychology of music to issues in psychology writ large.


The ten lectures will be organized around major themes in the field, including (but not limited to): evolution; universality and diversity; cross-species comparisons; development; musical ability; auditory cognitive neuroscience; genetics; and social cognition.

Facts about this course






Summer 2021

Teaching language