Professor Andrea Halpern

IAS Fellow at Collingwood College, Durham University (October – December 2019)

Andrea Halpern is Professor of Psychology and a member of the Neuroscience Program at Bucknell University, a liberal arts undergraduate university in Pennsylvania. She came to that department after completing her PhD in Cognitive Psychology at Stanford University, and has spent sabbatical leaves at Montreal Neurological Institute, UCLA, University of Texas at Dallas, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School. Her most recent leave was spent in London, where she worked with colleagues at Queen Mary and Goldsmiths, University of London, the Dementia Research Centre (UCL), and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

As a cognitive psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, she studies memory and perception of nonverbal information, usually music, and sometimes art. She is interested in how both musicians and nonmusicians understand musical structure, how emotion is conveyed and perceived in music, and psychology of the arts in healthy and pathological aging. One of her most significant contributions is the understanding of auditory imagery, or how sounds are generated in the mind and brain. In addition to devising behavioral tasks to capture auditory imagery, she has studied the neural mechanisms involved, finding that parts of the auditory and memory systems are active when people are imaging a tune, and that this network is more active in people reporting more vivid imagery (Hearing in the Mind’s Ear: A PET Investigation of Musical Imagery and Perception, 1999; Neuronal Correlates of Perception, Imagery, and Memory for Familiar Tunes, 2012).

Two newer strands of research involve “bad singing”: people vary considerably in how well they can sing a target pitch, and this covert perceptual-motor system (you cannot see what you are doing when you sing) is not well understood. Together with Professor Peter Pfordresher (University of Buffalo), they have found connections between auditory imagery and singing, and several ongoing projects look at whether training one domain can improve the other. Another strand of research is on audience engagement, looking at audience reaction to hearing a piece twice on a concert programme (Audience Reaction to Repeating a Piece on a Concert Programme, 2017).

During her Fellowship, Professor Halpern will work with Professor Tuomas Eerola in the Department of Music. They will study brain reactions (using EEG) in musicians and nonmusicians to cues in music that convey emotion. They will also examine the speed of aesthetic response to music as a function of the listener’s age: will older listeners take longer to make decisions about how much they like a piece, due to overall cognitive slowing, or will they be faster, perhaps due to a lifetime of developing their musical taste?

Professor Halpern’s work has been funded by National Institute on Aging, National Science Foundation, the Grammy Foundation, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). She is a former President of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition and serves as Associate Editor for the journal Music Perception. Professor Halpern is an avid choral and chamber music singer, and hopes to participate in that capacity in the musical life of Durham.

Halpern, A.R., *Chan, C. H. K., Müllensiefen, D., & Sloboda, J. (2017) ‘Audience reaction to repeating a piece on a concert programme’, Participations, 14, pp. 135-152.

Herholz, S. C., Halpern, A. R., & Zatorre, R. J(2012), ‘Neuronal correlates of perception, imagery, and memory for familiar tunes’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, pp. 1382-1397. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00216

Zatorre, R. J ., Halpern, A. R., Perry, D. W., Meyer, E., & Evans, A. C. (1996) ‘ Hearing in the mind’s ear: A PET investigation of musical imagery and perception’, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience8, pp.29-46. doi: 10.1162/jocn.1996.8.1.29