What We're All About

The perception of sound plays an essential part in the lives of most individuals. Hearing conversation or enjoying music provide some obvious examples. Other examples are less obvious, such as, the effect of music in film, or the emotional meaning conveyed by intonation of the voice. Our laboratory research is aimed at understanding how humans recognize, remember, and interpret these meaningful sound patterns.

There are three main branches of our research. The first has been ongoing interest for many years and focuses on the mental representation of musical structure and the acquisition of musical knowledge, including knowledge of popular music. This work has received support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering research Council. Through a recent NSERC grant, a new  longitudinal study (MusAcq), has begun with a focus on adolescent brain plasticity as it applies to music. The study will examine preference and memory in the context of other types of auditory/music tasks including singing.  The second branch which began a little later,  focuses on the role of music in audiovisual contexts, in particular, the role of music on the interpretation, memory, and appreciation of cinema, video and other multimedia. This work has been supported by Social Sciences and Humanities research Council. The third research area, the newest of all, focuses on singing, as part of a very large international project called AIRS (Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing) which was based at UPEI, and initiated and directed by Dr. Cohen and supported by SSHRC. Dr. Cohen is now a co-investigator in the  multi-institutional  SingWell  Canada project, supported by SSHRC, which focuses on the benefits of singing for persons with communication disorders. 

Our work is typically undertaken in the context of a broad lifespan developmental picture. We are interested in understanding how individuals acquire auditory and musical skills and how these skills change across the lifespan from childhood to senior years, be it memory for sequences, identification of emotion, integration of musical and visual information, or learning to sing or compose a new melody. We are also interested in the therapeutic uses of music and in the health aspect of hearing and music and student theses have been conducted with persons who have Parkinson's Disease, dementia or profound hearing loss. 

Thus, the Auditory Perception and Music Cognition laboratory fosters research in a wide variety of areas that connect with human auditory perception: the representation of musical grammar and musical tonality, film interpretation and film memory, the development of singing, and comparisons between musical and language abilities. The talents of students, assistants, and technical staff serve important functions for the success of this laboratory and make the laboratory an exciting multidisciplinary environment in which to work toward uncovering new knowledge about auditory and music pattern recognition.

Between 2009 and 2018, the primary work of the laboratory was associated with the AIRS project Advancing Interdisciplinary Research on Singing. This work connected to previous research in the laboratory that focused on the acquisition of musical grammar,  memory for tone sequences and the role of music in multimedia. Singing reflects the acqusition of musical grammar and  entails the memory for tone sequences.  Singing is not just an acoustical or auditory phenomenon; it involves other media, particularly vision and motor information. The prior knowledge acquired by the laboratory contributes to the ability to study singing, and the current studies of singing feed back knowledge about the original questions in which the laboratory had interest - how are tone sequences remembered, how is the grammar of music acquired, and how does the mind integrate information from music at the same time as it processes information from other media.  The Routledge Companion to Interdisciplinary Studies in Singing is a three-volume book series published in 2020,  representing the outcome of  the  AIRS project. The three volumes focus on Development, Education, and Well-being respectively and together include over 100 chapters and over 1500 pages. The authorship is international but also includes the work from Psychology, Island Studies, Music, and Education Departments at UPEI, and 7 undergraduate co-authors who worked in the Auditory Perception and Music Cognition Research and Training Laboratory, (Jingyuan Sun, Eric Da Silva, Kyle Dutton, Lee Lim,  Chris Robison, and Quincy Beck) and two postdoctoral researchers (Bing-Yi Pan and Karen Ludke) who subsequently obtained faculty positions. 

Most recently, through the New Foundations in Research Fund - Exploration, an interdisciplinary project, involving researchers across the five faculties  (Arts, Science, Education, Business and Sustainable Design Engineering),  entitled "Access to Music Education" (AMusE),  has been initiatied by Dr. Cohen (who is also the designated Principal Investigator) to determine the extent of inequality of access to music education across Canadian schools and through the results of new empirical research develop guidelines for decreasing this inequality.  This project provides an area of application of the work of the laboratory and adds to the broad research context offered to the lab members.