This week’s lab meeting will feature a talk by Samuel Mehr of The Music Lab, Harvard Department of Psychology. Bio and talk abstract are below.

  • Thursday, February 18, 13:30–14:30 (Montreal time, UTC-5).
  • Meetings are via Zoom. If you are interested in attending any of the meetings this semester, please take a moment now to register at this link. After approval, you will receive a confirmation email with the link to join.


I will present some recent findings on what humans understand about the music they hear: (1) that acoustical forms of songs are predictive of their primary behavioral functions across cultures; (2) that adult listeners worldwide are sensitive to this fact, in that they accurately infer behavioral functions even when the songs are from unfamiliar cultures and sung in unfamiliar languages; (3) that such effects are not, merely a result of musical or cultural experience, as both young children and infants show comparable effects, with little evidence for increases in sensitivity across ages; and (4) that high-level representations of the "functions" of music are apparently enabled by lower-level processing of pitch and duration information into tonal and metrical representations. Together, these findings point to a universal psychology of music that underlies our motivations and interest in music. With this in mind, I'll also present some new findings exploring the structure of aesthetic preferences for music, with an eye toward understanding more about what it is that people enjoy in music.


Samuel A. Mehr is Principal Investigator at The Music Lab, Department of Psychology, Harvard University. He studies how and why the design of the human mind leads us to perceive, create, and engage with music across human societies and across the lifespan. Originally a musician, Sam earned a B.M. in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music, followed by a doctorate in Human Development from Harvard. You can participate in Sam’s research at and follow him on Twitter @samuelmehr.