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The science of music. 3/4.

  • Audio

About this work


Radio documentary presented by Professor Robert Winston looking at the evolutionary and developmental roots of music. In this episode he considers music and the mind, and investigates what music does to people. Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct, suggests that musical sound structures tap in to our emotions and provoke a response. Neuroimaging is starting to provide ways of understanding human brains and Professor Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist at McGill University, Montreal, talks about brain scanning using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI). However, no single area in the brain is responsible for a cognitive response. Dr. Lauren Stewart, neuroscientist at Goldsmiths College, London, talks about the different brain processes involved in listening to music and about the types of scanning used. Ian Cross, director of the music and science programme at the University of Cambridge, suggests that the methodology of scanning doesn't accurately reproduce normal listening to music. By studying people with congenital amusia, a condition which causes no emotional response to music, Lauren Stewart, demonstrates that a normal musical response uses connections in the brain that those with congenital amusia do not appear to have. Stephen Johnson, musicologist, talks about composers' responses to their own work. Adam Ockelford, Roehampton University, points out that our emotional reaction to a sound happens almost instantly which is something advertisers pick up on. Professor, Eric Clarke, from the University of Oxford, is an expert on the psychology of music and the extent to which it can cause harm or psychological damage. Stephen Johnson is bipolar and talks about the influence of music in his life (particularly Sibelius's Symphony No. 4) and why he listened to pieces of emotionally intense music during times of personal turmoil. Robert Winston suggests there is also a physical side to music. Saxophonist and composer, John Harle, talks about the instrument, the monochord, and how he was recently helped physically with monochord vibration therapy. Adam Ockelford talks about the physical effects sound can have on us. Researchers in Australia have studied the effect of Baroque music on a group of dementia patients. Professor Kichu Nair, at the Newcastle School of Medicine, Australia, found that the music made the patients more aggressive. Adam Ockelford, says there is evidence to show that people prefer the music they liked aged 15 to 21, and that as they grow older this will often be their preferred music. Anxiety reduces with your preferred music, but can increase with other types of music. As such, music therapy could do with more rigorous testing as musical taste is very individual. Robert Winston, summarises that we not only have individual reactions to music, but even parts of our bodies have separate responses, and that techniques, like neuroimaging, still offer us very litte information on this area.


UK : BBC Radio 4, 2013.

Physical description

1 CD (29 min.)


Broadcast on 28th May, 2013.

Creator/production credits

Produced Martin Williams for BBC Radio 4 ; presented by Robert Winston.

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4.



  • English

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