Talk by Dr. Michael Weiss
Exploring the memory advantage for vocal melodies
Abstract: The voice is a biologically significant and spectrally rich signal that plays a critical role in communication and social engagement throughout life. Nevertheless, music cognition and perception research does not typically use vocal music as stimuli, opting instead for timbres that are easier to manipulate and control (e.g., digital instruments). The evolutionary and ontogenetic significance of the voice are among the reasons to expect distinctive and favored processing of vocal music. My M.A. research compared memory for vocal and instrumental melodies, revealing superior recognition of vocal melodies and no differences among various instrumental renditions (Weiss, Trehub, & Schellenberg, 2012). The current talk is a summary of my Ph.D. research, which explored various facets of the ‘vocal memory advantage’ by (1) testing additional populations of listeners (children, musicians and nonmusicians), (2) using physiological (pupil dilation) as well as behavioral responses, (3) examining the implications of divided attention (a concurrent task), and (4) confirming the generality of the findings across male and female vocalists. Collectively, the research provides definitive evidence that musical timbres are unequal in their consequences for music cognition. Specifically, vocal and instrumental melodies have differential effects on arousal, attention, and memory.
Short Bio: Michael has joined the lab of Isabelle Peretz as a postdoc. His research examines adults’ and children’s memory for melodies using a variety of methods. He is currently attempting to pinpoint the factors that make vocal melodies so memorable.