Friday, December 5, 2014

Combined Flow in Music Performance

Hart and di Blasi’s (2013) study explores the experience of combined flow in musical performances. Their research was motivated by questions about whether flow can occur in group settings, to discover if group flow might have qualities that are separate from individual flow, and to determine how best to further study instances of group flow. The researchers interviewed six university students from a variety of disciplines who had a minimum of eight years experience playing music in group settings. Jam sessions were organized for the participants, and interviews were conducted afterwards. In addition, one of the researchers participated in one of the jams and produced a written narrative of events.
            Individual flow has been described as a subjective state through which individuals become deeply consumed by an activity that is both challenging and intrinsically rewarding. Many work and leisure activities are associated with flow, including music listening and music practice and performance. The experience of combined, or group flow has been studied in sports settings, but surprisingly so far very little work has been done that examines group flow in musical ensembles.
            In group flow situations, the characteristics of individual flow emerge (but in slightly different ways) while members are all focused on a group-based goal. The study discovered five overall themes related to and necessary for the occurrence of group flow. First, members must “find a niche” within the group and feel they are each bringing an individual skill or talent to the group experience. Second, the group must overcome individual differences and “break on through.” Individual differences such as personal tastes and skill levels must be overcome and the group must assume a collective identity. Third, the members must “find a group groove” and let go of individual thoughts and feelings in order to maintain the forward momentum of the jam and the enjoyment of the present moment. Fourth, the group must obtain a collective awareness that the jam is a fleeting experience that must come to an end. This was described by participants as a feeing of having your feet pulled from under you and being plunged back into reality. Finally, group members share highs and lows and realize that the experience was made available through group collaboration.
            The study found that some, but not all, characteristics of individual flow occur in group flow settings. Of these, three seem to be salient differences as compared to individual flow. First, group members get a sense that they are in control of their own playing but do not try and direct or control the playing of others. Second, people lose their sense of self-consciousness or anxiety about how they are playing related to other members of the group. Third, the whole goal of the performance becomes the jam itself, or achieving the sensation of group flow, rather than some other goal like performing a piece of music perfectly. The authors conclude with a very brief discussion of the importance of the group flow experience in therapeutic, educational, and workplace settings.

Although it is not explicitly discussed in the article, it can be assumed that the ensemble in this study was performing some sort of improvised rock- or blues-based jam style of music. I wonder if group flow is unique to this kind of improvisation, or if collective flow could be experienced during performances of more structured kinds of art music, or if larger ensembles like symphonies could experience episodes of combined flow. In other words, what part of group performance enhances collective flow? Is it the improvisational aspects of a particular style of music, or is it simply the shared experience of individual flow?
Csikszentmihalyi claims that flow is a complex, subjective experience and therefore is difficult to measure using quantitative methods. Therefore, Hart and di Blasi’s study used “funnelled” interview data and a grounded theory approach to analyze transcribed interviews. Even though the flow state is subjective, that does not mean that it cannot be associated with certain neural states, and could therefore be operationalized for an experimental setting. For instance, certain physiological responses such as chills, or goosebumps, have been associated with flow-like states. Additionally, more research could be done that examines the relationship between flow and brain wave entrainment. Some video game research has used EEG data to determine which brain wave states are most associated with flow states during gaming.

            In a similar ways, EEG tools could be used to monitor the brain states of ensemble members during a jam or performance. An experiment could be designed that monitored a small choral ensemble with EEG and video recordings. Researchers could review the experiment data and then use video elicitation to interview the participants to see if flow experiences were achieved and if so, what types of brain activity might be associated with these experiences. New consumer-grade, low-cost EEG monitors might offer new opportunities for this kind of research in the near future.

Hart, Emma, and Zelda Di Blasi. 2013. “Combined Flow in Musical Jam Sessions: A Pilot Qualitative Study.” Psychology of Music, October, 0305735613502374. doi:10.1177/0305735613502374.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Creativity and Psychopathy: Higher Rates of Psychosis Proneness and Nonright-Handedness Among Creative Artists

Creativity and Psychopathy: Higher Rates of Psychosis Proneness and Nonright-Handedness Among Creative Artists 

Preti and Vellante claim that creative individuals often describe having “odd sensory and perceptual experiences”. These cognitive similarities, for example, loose associations, broad attentional focus, and the ability to connect novel information, has also been seen in schizophrenic individuals. This suggests that there is a link between creative individuals and schizophrenic individuals. In fact, previous studies have found that creative individuals typically score higher on tests that measure psychoticism. However, these results have been inconsistent and they have failed to consider substance abuse, which might be a contributing factor, among creative artists. 
Previous studies have also found that those with schizophrenia who had higher reports of unusual subject experiences had a higher frequency of abnormal hemispheric lateralization. It was also observed in several studies that individuals with schizophrenia tend to be left handed with decreased language lateralization and decreased or reversed anatomic asymmetry. Nonright handedness is commonly seen among creative individuals as well, and researchers think that this might be a marker of disrupted brain lateralization in cognitive functions which may lead creative individuals to have unusual subjective experiences. However, these experiences themselves are not a marker of psychosis. Those in the general population who score high on psychosis proneness and schizotypy were found to be mixed handedness. 
In this study, Preti and Vellante investigated whether unusual subjective experiences were related to nonright handedness in creative artists. The researchers used the Peters et al. Delusions Inventory (PDI) to assess psychosis proneness of a general population. The PDI includes 21 questions, for instance, “do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?” and “Do you ever feel as if someone is deliberately trying to harm you?” Researchers also used the General Health Questions (GHQ) to measure psychological distress on a 4 point scale (“not at all”, “less than usual”, “more than usual”, and “rather more than usual”). Some examples of questions that were on the GHQ are, “Have you recently been feeling unhappy and depressed?” and “Have you felt you couldn’t overcome your difficulties?” 
160 participants completed the PDI and GHQ. Of these, 80 were professional artists (30 musicians, 25 painters, 25 writers), while the other 80 participants were in noncreative professions. To investigate handedness, researchers used The Annett Hand Preference Questionnaire (HPQ). Participants were asked if they use their right, left, or both hands in the following primary actions: writing, throwing, hammering, brushing teeth, etc. They were also asked about handedness in nonprimary actions: dealing cards, opening a jar, threading a needle, etc. Subjects were then grouped into one of three groups depending on which hand was more dominant in the primary actions: fully dextral, fully sinistral, and ambidextral or mixed. Those in the fully dextral group preferred their right hand, those in the fully sinistral group had a preference for their left hand, and the ambidextral/mixed group were those who were inconsistent in reporting a preference. Furthermore, subjects were asked about their experience with any psychoactive substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, ecstasy, LSD, etc. 
In handedness, 81% of the artists were fully dextral, 6% were fully sinistral and 12% were ambidextral/mixed. In the control group, 97% were fully dextral and 3% were ambidextral/mixed. It was found that artists, specifically musicians and painters, were more likely to use their left hand compared to nonartists. This may mean that these artists use more of their right hemisphere in their artistic profession, and that this is not the result of greater development of both hands due to their profession. However, this may be true for musicians. The artists scored higher on the PDI and the authors think this has to do with their use of psychoactive substances. It was found that creative artists were statistically more likely to report unusual subject experiences of a delusion-like nature when compared to the control group, supporting the idea that higher schizotypy scores are seen in artistic and creative people. Furthermore, creative artists were more likely to report a left hand preference. 

As I am interested in psychosis and it’s link to creative artists, I found this study to be fascinating. It is interesting to me that artists seem to report that they have more unusual subjective experiences. Are these experiences coincidental? Are artists simply more open to them? Do the artists maybe have different definitions amongst themselves for what determines an experience to be “unusual”? 
It was interesting that the researchers speculated that the participants’ history of legal and illegal drug use, rather than more scientific reasons such as genes, were the reason for their high PDI scores. With respect to this, the researchers did not describe whether small or large amounts or psychoactive substances were used. They also did not state which drug was used most and how regularly. If researchers claim that artists scored higher on the PDI and that psychoactive substances may be the reason, it would be helpful to know more about this.
I thought it was interesting that the researchers connected these unusual experiences to handedness. It was surprising to me that there were no left-handed people in the nonartistic group. However, that that being said, there were only five left-handed artists, two of which were painters, and the other three were musicians. It could be that this particular sample yielded these particular results. 
The most fascinating point in this article is that the results seem to confirm a connection between creativity and reports of unusual subjective beliefs and experiences. In researching this topic and reading other articles, I have found that generally, it is agreed that there is a link between creativity and psychosis, however, that researchers have had different reasons as to why this may be. I have also found that researchers have different definitions of what creativity really is. How do we also address how to measure creativity in different forms? For example, a dancer and an artist. Shalley (1991) defines creativity as having three factors: ability, intrinsic motivation, and cognitive activities. However, others might define creativity as creating a work of some type or remaining flexible in order to problem solve. More research and a clearer consensus of what creativity is, is needed. 

Preti, A., & Vellante, M. (2007). Creativity and psychopathology: Higher rates of psychosis proneness and nonright-handedness among creative artists compared to same age and gender peers. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 195(10), 837-845.

Shalley, C. E. (1991). Effects of productivity goals, creativity goals, and personal discretion on individual creativity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 179-185.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Music, Language and Autism: Exceptional Strategies for Exceptional Minds

Reference: Music, Language and Autism: Exceptional Strategies for Exceptional Minds, Dr. Adam Ockelford, 2013, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that does not define one specific neurological condition. It is identified in young children as behaviour that does not progress socio-cognitively through key developmental learning stages. It is defined as a spectrum because of the vast diversity and specificities of behaviour. Some autistic children are high functioning and need little interventional support, while others have profound challenges to overcome. Essentially autism is defined by three characteristics; impairment in social interactivity, impairment in communication, and an abnormal preoccupation or focus on specific interests (Ockelford, 24).

Maxwell is a 12 year old boy who I teach in my ISP (Intensive Support Program) music class who presents with many observed behaviours on the ASD scale.When I introduced Max to his first wind instrument, a baritone, I thought he showed real potential. His initial buzzing and tone were good. He played a big round B flat tone the very first day.  One unique aspect of his behaviour is his fascination with animals. He is totally engrossed and preoccupied with all things animal-related. I used his interest in animals as a motivational tool; the baritone became his bear that he had to hug and make music with. Maxwell responded well to verbal and unified whole class cues on posture, breathing and guided mouthpiece warm-ups. But over time Maxwell became grumpy, frustrated and began to act out. Different experimental medications made Maxwell comatose one day, hyperactive the next. In a class of nine ISP brass students, Maxwell's progress was not developing beyond making beginning tones and some ability to follow the rhythm in the warm-ups.  Maxwell was unable to press down the valves without assistance and was not retaining any memory of fingering combinations from class to class. Presently, when I work one on one with Maxwell, I do observe some limited progress and it is certainly possible that more time spent with him would result in further musical development. I chose this reference to gain a better understanding of ASD in the hopes of finding information that might help me work with learning differentiated children, like Maxwell, who fall into a higher need category.

Dr. Adam Ockelford  argues strongly in his book, Music, Language and Autism, about the need for an organised system of music in recognized targeted autistic education programs.  Music holds an intense fascination for many children on the autism spectrum. Ockelford believes that music can be used as a mode of communication,  a "positive outlet to express inner thoughts and feelings" and a tool to help children find and express emotions without resorting to challenging or destructive behaviour.  His research shows that musical processing is often more highly developed than language processing in children with this condition. Additionally, he proposes that music can be used to support language ability, communications and social development.

Ockleford introduces a new theory of autism and music, where music is used as a critical tool in language processing.  He rigorously analyses how children with ASD process music and proposes that autism creates an Exceptional Early Cognitive Environment (EECE) where all sounds are processed in the brain as musical structure, when children are introduced to music at a young age. Furthermore, his theory is supported by the research that 1 in 20 ASD children have been found to have absolute pitch and/or a strong or savant-like propensity for music.

Ockelford's  book is highly complex and difficult to apply to music educators in the learning differentiated classroom. He does insert some small lesson plan ideas throughout the book, for example, using musical phrases instead of speech, singing "let's go to lunch",  instead of speaking it. His final chapter focuses on ASD children who are exceptional in music but he does not provide specific pedagogical strategies in working with these children. He discusses things to consider in terms of performance to maintain the integrity of the child, and retells his own specific case studies, which are certainly inspiring but do not provide any one-size-fits-all strategy.

Ockelford reflects on the nature of autism and how the abstract sound patterns and the highly repetitive nature of music appeal to many children with this neurological condition. Children with autism see things in parts, rather than the whole picture and Ocklelford sees this as an exceptional advantage and an opportunity to celebrate difference. The book is intended for intensive therapeutic educational programs that work with children one on one or in small classroom settings.  Generalities are certainly accessible; being positive, open minded, flexible and listening to learning cues from the child.  But translating his research to teachable curriculum in the whole classroom setting is difficult because it relies so highly on individual student and spontaneous teacher response.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Do digitized Recordings give negative effects to human body and mind?

Do digitized sound files cause negative effects on the human body?

Human Stress Provoked By Digitized Recordings.   John Diamond, MD



In this article, Dr. John Diamond states that there is a strong correlation between music and healing. He had used classical music played by a phonograph for therapeutic purposes and gained successful results. However, in 1979, he realized that the therapeutic effects did not last – in fact his patients had negative effects due to listening to the music. After a long investigation, he came to the conclusion that the phenomena occur through the use of digital recordings. When he played an analog version of a classical music work to his patient, he was able to gain the therapeutic effects, but as soon as a digital version of the same piece was played, the undesired symptoms appeared (muscle weakness, augmentation of stress). He claims that a human voice recorded by a digital device can also cause negative effects. Dr. Diamond emphasizes that he has led research regarding the effect of digital music by collaborating with other researchers. He also conducted many double blind tests in order to obtain accurate results. He points out that most of therapeutic recordings have been produced by the digital process, which weakens not only the muscles of the human body, but also the human mind and mental states. At the end of the article, he added an anecdote about the major recording and electronic companies that had been against his research results in the 80’s. In 2001, they contacted Dr. Diamond, saying that they knew the negative effects of digital sound, but they were obliged to release CDs. They asked him for help in finding a solution to the digital fatigue. He wraps up his article by mentioning the importance of escaping from the digital sound which releases us from the hatred of life.



I have been interested in the therapeutic effect of digital and analog music. There is no question about positive effects of unplugged acoustic instrumental sound, but the effect of digitized sound files has always been a question for me. Surprisingly, it was very difficult to find articles or research papers regarding this subject. Dr. John Diamond claims that digitized sound files absorb humans’ “life energy” the way white sugar weakens the immune system. Diamond is a physician and also an applied kinesiologist. I watched his muscle testing videos, and it was quite surprising that all the volunteers showed negative reactions while listening to a digitized sound file. (Dr. Diamond applied a deltoid muscle strength test to the volunteers.) He wrote this article in the year 2000, and he added postscripts in 2003 and 2006. I also found his recent AK demonstration video clips on YouTube. Dr. David Hawkins also calibrated the energy level of music by applying the Applied Kinesiology methods. However, I was not able to find any other reliable resources of pro or cons about this subject. I agree with his idea that listening to digital sound files – especially compressed mp3 files – gives negative effects, but the impact might be different depending on personal deviation. In his recent video, he states that he has produced CDs treated by one of his methods which do not weaken and absorb human life energy. (Watch the link below.)

Many neuro-scientists – including Jourdain – have conducted research on the effect of sound on the human auditory system, but none of them have decoded the effects of a sound type itself to the brain, as far as I know.

I would like to share opinions about the effects of digital sound on the human body.


"Digital Fatigue in Music, Diamond (2008) & Jungleib (2011)." YouTube. Accessed December 1, 2014.

John, Diamond. "Dr. Diamond MD - Human Stress Provoked By Digitized Recordings." Accessed November 30, 2014.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Amygdala damage impairs emotion recognition from music

Study by Nathalie Gosselin, Isabelle Peretz, Erica Johnsen, Ralph Adolphs

The role of the amygdala in recognizing danger is well established for visual stimuli such as the face. Gosselin et al. have decided to study a rare subject (by the name of “S.M.”) who has complete bilateral damage to the amygdala that does not encompass other sectors of the temporal lobe. S.M. is severely impaired in recognizing happiness and other emotions in faces (Adolphes et al., 1994, 1995). Her deficit appears to be limited to facial expressions as she constantly fails to recognize fear, surprise, sadness, and anger. And yet, S.M. has no difficulty in recognizing these same emotions in emotional speech. She also exhibits impaired arousal judgments for scary faces. She finds fearful faces less arousing than normal controls whereas she judges them normally as unpleasant. S.M. has been studied by Adolphs and collaborators for the past decade (as mentioned in this 2007-published paper), as she remains to date, the subject with the most selective and complete amygdala atrophy. With that said, the team aims to assess this time, the specific role of the amygdala in her recognition of fear from music.

Gosselin et al. conducts two experiments in this study. The first one, to rate the intensity of fear, peacefulness, happiness, and sadness from computer-generated instrumental music purposely created to express these emotions. Participants (S.M. along with four “normal” female participants) are to listen to fifty-six musical excerpts containing the previously mentioned emotions. The task is to judge the intensity of each emotion for each musical stimulus on 10-point scales. The participants also rated the arousal and valence of each musical stimulus on another 10-point scale of whether the music sounds pleasant or not, for the duration of 45-minutes. In addition, an error detection task that assesses basic auditory perceptual function was tested, through twenty-four of the fifty-six stimuli used in the emotion task. The twenty-four excerpts are modified to contain a timing error, where participants are to indicate if the pianist (playing in the recording) lost track of what s/he is playing at some point of the piece.

The second experiment aims to determine the musical cues that S.M. (and seven normal female controls this time,) are able to use to recognize emotion in music, through the use of mode and tempo. The stimuli consist of thirty-two musical excerpts; half are chosen to evoke happiness and the other half, sadness. In the “mode condition”, all excerpts are transcribed in the opposite mode (major to minor and vice versa). In the “mode-tempo condition”, the mode and tempi are manipulated respectively.

S.M. performs normally in the task of error detection in basic auditory perceptual function. She has difficulty in recognizing scary and sad music, though is able to recognize happy music. S.M. confounds scary with peaceful music, as the confusion never occurs in normals. She also judges scary music to be less arousing and the peaceful music less relaxing than the other controls. S.M. also confounds sadness with peacefulness and occasionally mistakes sad stimuli as happy. And yet, she judges the happy music more intense than normal controls. S.M. judgment of pleasantness are also influenced by tempo. She judges faster musical tempi as more pleasant whereas normal controls’ judgment are unaffected by tempo. Gosselin et. al. states that S.M.’s impairment is similar to that previously reported in patients with unilateral anteromedial temporal lobe damage.

In the mode and tempo experiment, S.M.’s responses are similar to those of normal subjects. Therefore, she shows normal ability to employ tempo and mode as cues for emotional interpretation.

Music is an appropriate medium to assess emotional processing because music is a powerful emotional trigger and is easy to manipulate for research purposes (Gosselin et al., 2007). Gosselin et al. concludes that the amygdala appears to be necessary for emotional processing of music rather than the perceptual processing itself. They hope to pay special attention to the type of musical cues that convey potential threat to the listener and assess their effects on behavioural or brain responses in future studies.

This is a very fascinating research! Researchers have studied this patient for about two decades (assuming they are continuing their studies with her today, in 2014), and have been monitoring the function of her amygdala (and presumably the other parts of her brain). The number of participants is extremely small, though with much preparation made in order to conduct the study. For example, they hired a “professional composer” (name unmentioned) to compose fifty-six musical excerpts. I do wonder though, how are the mood of the musical excerpts determined? Is mood determined by intervals, dynamics, or texture? Mood is apparently determined by metronome marking (ie. Happy excerpts are written in major mode at the average tempo of 137 metronome marking with the melodic line lying in the medium-high range). But how was the 137 metronome marking determined as “happy”? The paper said that the listening excerpts for each emotion category can be heard on the website at, but the examples don’t exist currently, unfortunately. It would have been interesting to listen to the excerpts.

The first experiment lasted for 45-minutes while the second experiment lasted for 1-hour. That’s a long time for an experiment (especially to listen to fifty-six excerpts). I wonder if the participants eventually ended up tired and/or confused with the amount of music to be heard. Did they take breaks? How was their focus level? Also, the experiments measured pleasant and unpleasant music. I wonder how that is measured.

In the two experiments, S.M. is compared by the other participants’ results. What if the normal participants themselves, had drastically different results themselves? Then how would it be graphed? Lastly, knowing that S.M.’s bilateral damage to the amygdala is extremely rare, I wonder if other subjects with the same damage as her, have been tested. I would be interested to also see their results, and compare it with S.M.’s. This research has proved to me all the more that, the brain is absolutely complex -- even the amygdala on its own. Discovery of this organ of ours, is proven to be all the more important in research to discover the nuances of the role of each part of the brain.


Adolphs, R., D. Tranel, H. Damasio, and A. Damasio. "Impaired Recognition Of Emotion In Facial Expressions Following Bilateral Damage To The Human Amygdala." Nature 374.6507 (1994): 669-72.

Gosselin, Nathalie, Isabelle Peretz, Erica Johnsen, and Ralph Adolphs. "Amygdala Damage Impairs Emotion Recognition From Music." Neuropsychologia 45 (2007): 236-44.