PSYC 4541 Special Topics in Psychology: Music and Cognition


Kris Shaffer, Ph.D.


Music is an art. Music is a language. Music is therapy. Music is a clinical tool. Music is a weapon. Music is an area of humanistic inquiry. Music is math. Music is neuroscience. Music is communal. Music is deeply personal. Music is bug spray. Music is religion. Music is identity formation. Music is culture. Music is psychology.

Music is nearly unparalleled in its ability to engage just about every facet of our lives. Perhaps only language has the same reach into our biology, psychology, individual identity, and social community. Music both frames, and is dependent on, our memory. Music both affects and flows from our emotions. Music both embodies and transcends cultural prejudice. And despite its heavily scientific base, even professional musicians treat it with an air of mystery.

Music cognition explores all of these things. In a sense, music cognition is the study of music. And that is why to be a “cognitive musicologist” is as vague as to be a “musician.” Some cognitive musicologists study the scientific basis of music theory; some explore the anthropological side of music in community; others are psychologists, neurologists, or psycholinguists with an interest in music; still others are therapists, studying music for its clinical value and employing it in the treatment of Alzheimers, autism, amnesia, or stroke-enduced aphasia.

A course in music cognition could easily become a class in neurology, psychology, linguistics, computational analysis, medicine… This class will serve as an overview of concepts that are foundational to these areas, and an introduction to some of those more specific fields. Final projects will afford students opportunities to delve deeply into one of these areas in accordance with their interests and goals.



Following are assessment types and points towards the final grade:

  • Introductory activities (video, tweet, and D2L comments): 1-point each, total of 3 points.
  • Quizzes: 2 points each, 8 quizzes, total of 16 points. Half or more questions correct will earn 1 point. 90% or more questions correct will earn 2 points. Collaboration encouraged (see specific quiz instructions). No reassessments allowed.
  • Conceptual videos: 1 point each, 15 videos required (5 per week during weeks 2–4). Collaboration not allowed. Reassessments encouraged within three class days of receiving feedback.
  • Video voting: 1 point each, 3 weeks. No reassessments. Only comments received by the deadline will count.
  • Concept map contributions: 1 point each, 8 contributions required (2 per week). Collaboration encouraged (see instructions). No reassessments allowed.
  • Final project: 5 points (rubric negotiated between student and instructor). Students must have earned 35 points by the beginning of Week 5 (Monday, June 29) in order to pursue a final project. Collaboration permitted if approved by the instructor in the contract for the project. Since they are due on the last day of class, there is no reassessment opportunity, but the contract should make the grade clear to students when they submit.
  • Final reassessments: Students who do not qualify for the final project may submit up to 5 points worth of new or reattempted videos and/or concept map contributions during the final week. No collaboration allowed, no further reassessments allowed.

These assignments total a possible 50 points. Final letter grades will be determined by the percentage of points passed according to the usual 90/80/70/60 scale.

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