April 5th, Lauren Stewart on Congenital Amusia

by smartcognitivescience

The April SMART Cognitive Science Lecture will be presented by

Lauren Stewart (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Congenital Amusia – Why do all the songs sound the same?

Friday April 5th, 2013

VOC-zaal, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam

16h00 Gabor Haden  (ILLC), A SMART Perspective on Music and Cognition
16h20 Lauren Stewart (Goldsmiths), Congenital Amusia – Why do all the songs sound the same?
17h10 Discussion
17h30 Drinks


The ability to make sense of musical sound has been observed in every culture since the beginning of recorded history. In early infancy, it allows us to respond to the sing-song interactions from a primary caregiver and to engage in musical play. In later life it shapes our social and cultural identities and modulates our affective and emotional states. But a few percent of the population fail to develop the ability to make sense of or engage with music. Individuals with congenital amusia (CA) cannot recognize familiar tunes, cannot tell one tune from another, frequently complain that music sounds like a “din” and avoid the many social situations in which music plays a role. In this talk I will present data from perceptual experiments suggesting that individuals with amusia are insensitive to pitch direction and are unable to retain pitch information in memory. In addition, I will discuss ongoing genetic and neuroimaging approaches that we are using to characterize this disorder. The study of disordered musical development sets in sharp relief the perceptual and cognitive abilities which most of us take for granted and give us a unique chance to investigate how musical perceptual ability develops, from the level of the gene to the brain development and the emergence of a complex and fundamental human behaviour.


Lauren Stewart is Reader in Psychology and founding director of the MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths, University of London (http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/msc-music-mind-brain/). Her current research interests ranges from studying those with congenital amusia who have an inability to make sense of musical sound to studying the acquisition of perceptual, cognitive and motor skills in trained musicians and, more recently ‘earworms’ (tunes in the head). Lauren originally studied Physiological Sciences at Balliol College Oxford, but transferred from bodies to brains with an MSc in Neuroscience and doctoral and postdoctoral training at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience (both UCL) and Harvard Medical School. She received the Experimental Psychology Society prize for distinguished research contribution at an early career stage.