$20K GRAMMY Museum Foundation Grant for McGill music research

What are the differences in brain activity between musically trained and untrained individuals? Co-investigators Caroline Palmer, Signy Sheldon and Rebecca Scheurich receive $20,000 from the GRAMMY Museum Grant Program to find out
From left to right: Caroline Palmer, Signy Sheldon and Rebecca Scheurich

The GRAMMY Museum Grant Program recently announced an investment of $200,000 to 15 music research projects across the U.S. and Canada to provide support for archiving, preservation programs and research efforts that examine the impact of music on human development. The McGill project, Autobiographical memory enhancements with musical training and auditory imagery, led by co-investigators Professor Caroline Palmer, Assistant Professor Signy Sheldon and graduate student Rebecca Scheurich will receive $20,000 over two years to explore the differences in brain activity between musically trained and untrained individuals as they recall details from past events.

There is a wide range of research suggesting that music training and musical experience affect how people process information differently – both experience with music and musical training can aid language development and help facilitate memory, both auditory and visual. “If individuals were asked to recount a memory or dream, some would focus on visual details while others would focus on auditory details depending on how they perceive, remember and imagine past events,” said Professor Palmer. “People process information and recall memory in a way that is specific to the experience of each individual. We want to find out if musically trained and untrained individuals perceive and remember autobiographical events differently.”

Over the past year, the co-investigators working in Professor Palmer’s Sequence Production Lab  and Professor Sheldon’s Memory Lab have recruited musically trained and untrained people to participate in their study. With the support of the grant, they will begin testing people’s memories of autobiographical events while using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) to see which neural networks in the brain account for the modalities in which they recall these complex events.

The participants of the study will be shown a series of films containing visual, auditory and non-perceptual event descriptions. They will then be asked to answer questions about what went on in the films. The co-investigators are interested to know whether the participants will show activity in different neural networks as they recall different types of cues that were present in the films, and whether their musical training and imagery abilities influence the results.

“The results of this study can help us understand how learning music influences the way the brain processes memory,” said Professor Sheldon. “Since memory is fundamental to so much of what we do in our daily life, this finding could explain how musical training ultimately changes how we experience the world.”

Read the GRAMMY Museum Grant Program press release.