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The Sound of Science - 'Steelpan and Cognitive Function'

Suzanne Tennant/Suzanne Tennant-Northern Illinoi

Newt: You're listening to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I'm Newt with NIU STEAM. Did you know April is the 50th anniversary of NIU's CSA steelband? Steelpan player and associate professor of cognitive and instructional psychology at NIU, Katja Wiemer, is here to tell us more about the connection between music and the brain.

Katja: At first glance, there is no obvious connection between the steelpan and cognitive science, which is the interdisciplinary study of mind. However, music offers a rich domain for research connecting several cognitive functions, including the mechanisms of communication, memory, attention, perception, and the coordination of complex sequences of motion. For example, playing musical instruments has been shown to support healthy cognitive functions like attention and spatial reasoning. Playing with others further supports communicative skills such as listening and collaborating. On a neurological level, there's evidence that brain networks used for many important functions are strengthened through involvement in music. Playing and listening to steelpans also involves a variety of cognitive processes such as motor control, auditory perception, attention and memory. Additionally, however, the Caribbean steelpan offers a unique element by virtue of its strong cultural connection with joyful Calypso rhythms, dance, and social bonding. These features offer a window into often neglected aspects of cognition, such as its rich interplay with emotions as well as culture. In turn, cognitive theories of these processes can shed light on the complex processes that happen when we play steelpan music with a singular blend of rhythm, melody, and emotion. Emotions also systematically interact with cognitive functions. For example, the positive mood induced by playing in a steelband me make happy memories more accessible, and thereby improve a person's outlook on their life.

Newt: This has been the sound of science on WNIJ where you learn something new every day.


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