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PhD candidate Zachary Wallmark helps secure grant for cognitive musicological project

February 28th, 2012 · No Comments


I hope you will join me in congratulating Zachary Wallmark for being the motive force behind a $25,000 UCLA Council on Research (COR) Transdisciplinary Seed Grant. The PI is, technically, me — and I’d like to think I did help some — but it was Zach who had the basic idea, and who put a grant application together along with myself and Prof. Marco Iacobone of the Brain Imaging Center. The project, “Understanding Musical Empathy Through the Audiomotor Mirror Neuron System,” will use fMRI imaging to examine what happens in the brain when test subjects listen to music they love…and music they hate. As Zach put it:

A musicologist and a neuroscientist join forces in order to better understand music’s unique power to unite people through shared empathy or to divide people based on cultural or other factors. The researchers plan an experiment involving the brain imaging of 20 participants — 10 musicians and 10 non-musicians– as they listen to excerpts of three different kinds of music: unfamiliar music, music they claim to “strongly like,” and music they claim to “strongly dislike.”? A fourth baseline condition (the control) involves examining the brain during the presentation of white noise.? If successful, the researchers expect that the results of this study could propose a biomarker of musical liking in humans, thereby laying the foundation for a theory of musical empathy rooted in embodied cognition.? The researchers plan to publish the results in neuroscientific and musicological journals and use the data for grant applications to NSF and NEH.

I am very excited to bring our department’s musicological expertise and sensitivity to culture into a realm where brain scientists have largely been working either on their own or in more purely medical contexts (hearing aids, etc.). And the validation of Zach’s interdisciplinary research focus is well-deserved.

More on this as it develops. But I have already ordered my white lab coat. ?:)


Robert Fink

Professor and?Chair

Department of Musicology

UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

Tags: Music History · Music history · Musicologists · Musicology · Musicology · School of Music