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Samuel Mehr: Genetic underpinnings of the psychology of music

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This seminar is presented in collaboration with Research Axis 2 (Music information research).

  • Seminar
When Apr 10, 2019
from 01:30 PM to 02:30 PM
Where A832, Elizabeth Wirth Music Building, 527 Sherbrooke St. West
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 Samuel Mehr


In 1871, Darwin wrote, “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man in reference to his daily habits of life, they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed.” People engage their mysterious musical faculties eagerly, frequently, across most societies, and for most of history. Why should this be? In this talk I will present new evidence for the universality of musical behaviors and musical forms applying methods of computational social science to the Natural History of Song corpora. Then I will present experimental work demonstrating that the genomic imprinting disorders Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes, which cause an altered psychology of parental investment, are associated with an altered psychology of music. These findings support theories of the psychological functions of music that help to explain why music is a ubiquitous piece of the human experience. 


Samuel Mehr is a Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, where he directs the Music Lab. Sam studies music: how the design of the human mind leads us to perceive, create, and engage with music, and how this psychology of music may be leveraged to improve health outcomes in infancy and adulthood. These questions are multidisciplinary, drawing insights from the cognitive sciences, evolutionary biology, anthropology, ethnomusicology and music theory, linguistics, and computer science. Originally a musician, Sam earned a B.M. in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music before diving into science at Harvard, where he earned an Ed.D. in Human Development and Education under the mentorship of Howard Gardner, Elizabeth Spelke, and Steven Pinker. To learn more about Sam's research and to participate in music research online, please visit

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