NeuroCognitive Music Research

The human brain is a complex network of cells, electrical signals, and much more. Research suggests that musicians use their brains in ways that are distinctive from non-musicians. The human brain is a finely-tuned organ able to make meaningful musical decisions in seemingly short spans of time. This research agenda inquires about the neurological anatomy that expert performers use to make musical decisions in live performance. We seek to learn what neurological responses to Irish traditional music can teach us about how the brain works.

This research represents a true interdisciplinary crossover between the arts and the sciences. Dr. Grasso is composing new music in a traditional style to be used as a testing stimulus for upcoming experimentation. 

If you would like to participate in a study, please contact egrasso@uoregon.edu


Music and Cognition Research Team

University of ORegon

The Music and Cognition Research Team is comprised of psychologists and musicologists who together explore two of the greatest frontiers in human civilization: music and the brain. The brain contributes significantly to who we are, how we think, and how we treat each other, and yet we are still at the earliest stages of understanding how the brain functions in higher order tasks and how we can help to successfully treat people with neurological dysfunction. The mission of this new research team is to build knowledge about the brain by studying cognitive and neuroanatomical function using musical creativity as a vehicle. Music is a human-generated stimulus that exhibits coherence. Musicians are individuals who have cultivated their musculature and hearing in specific ways in order to produce melodic/rhythmic sounds that exhibit coherence. The purpose of this research team is to explore the possibility of using music as a means of studying neural complexity. Toward this end the research team will investigate differences in neuroanatomical functioning between highly trained musicians and non-musicians. This information will guide further exploration on how acquiring musical competence may affect neural processing.

Research Partner

Dr. Dasa Zeithamova is Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. She studies how human beings use memory memory flexibly, deriving new knowledge by combining information from many experiences. Dr. Zeithamova's research focuses on how we use different memory systems to build complex knowledge representations, such as schemas, mental models or concepts. These complex memory representations transcend direct experience, allowing us to use memory for the past to guide behavior in novel situations. My primary research tools include computer-based experiments, formal models of behavior, and advanced functional MRI methods.

Project Consultants


Mr. Michael Grose is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the School of Music and Dance and Professor of Tuba at the University of Oregon. Dean Grose conducts international research in performance practice techniques that were taught widely by renowned brass pedagogue Arnold Jacobs. He has performed with the Chicago, Oregon, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Honolulu, Charleston, and Jacksonville symphonies, and the Boise Philharmonic. An accomplished chamber musician, Grose received the Sweepstakes Award at the Fischoff International Chamber Music Competition, making him the first tubist to receive that prize. Grose was also a prize-winner at the Coleman Chamber Music Competition in Pasadena, California.


Dr. Patrick Phillips is Professor of Biology and Acting Executive Director for the Knight Campus Accelerating Scientific Impact at the University of Oregon. His lab focuses on understanding the genotype-phenotype map: how genetic information contained within DNA is translated into the whole organism that interacts in the real world. To investigate this, the Phillips lab uses experimental evolution and whole genome analysis within laboratory populations of nematodes to identify the genetic basis of the response to selection, and theoretical approaches to study the evolution of gene interaction systems and suites of coevolving traits.


Dr. Michael Posner is Professor Emeritus of Psychology in the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon. In 2009, Posner was awarded the National Medal of Science. His current work deals with genetic and experiential factors in the development of brain networks underlying attention and learning. He is currently examining how changes in white matter might contribute to improved performance.

Dr. Robert Horner is Professor Emeritus of special education at the University of Oregon and director of the Educational Community Supports (ECS), a research unit within the College of Education that focuses on the development and implementation of practices that result in positive, durable, and scientifically validated change in the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. Horner's 25-year history of research, grants management, and systems change efforts related to school reform and positive behavior support include helping schools and school administrators develop systems for embedding school-wide systems of positive behavior support.




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