Caroline Palmer

Professor, Caroline PalmerDepartment of Psychology

Fellow, Royal Society of Canada

Canada Research Chair, Cognitive Neuroscience of Performance

caroline.palmer [at]

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Description of research program

From cradle to grave, people across all documented societies use music to soothe, to invigorate, to bond with others, and even to self-medicate. My research program focuses on how and why music moves us by studying how people make music, from simple rhythms to complex ensemble performances (Goebl & Palmer, 2009). Music, speech, and other auditory behaviors engage attention, intention, memory, motor control, and emotions. My research focuses on the time course of these processes in music performance (see Palmer & Pfordresher, 2003) .

One research theme addresses the nonlinear dynamics underlying the production of auditory sequences. Speech, music, and other human sounds follow predictable patterns or rhythmic regularities that can be modeled in terms of oscillations. We apply principles of nonlinear dynamics to understand how people move in response to sound (such as clapping or tapping their feet) and how they act in response to a partner in a joint task (such as musical ensemble) (see Zamm, Wellman & Palmer, 2016). We also study the nonlinear dynamics of brain responses to sound, using electroencephalography methods to measure periodic oscillations in human brains (Zamm, Palmer et al, 2017).

A second theme addresses the temporal coordination that underlies skilled performance, and properties of goal-directed movement that allow individuals to synchronize their actions with sensory feedback and with other individuals. Using motion capture techniques, we show how dynamic (time-dependent) properties of performers' motion indicate how personal identity may be rooted in voluntary, goal-directed actions (see Dalla Bella & Palmer, 2011; Goebl & Palmer, 2013).

A third theme addresses how people coordinate their actions with others. Most listeners perceive musical sequences as temporally regular, although beat-deaf individuals provide an exception (see Phillips-Silver et al, 2011; Palmer et al, 2014). When two or more individuals interact, in musical ensembles or conversational speech, their goal to synchronize is especially challenging, given that humans produce sound that is temporally irregular. We model with dynamical systems how listeners are influenced by the temporal fluctuations with which they coordinate their behavior (see Loehr, Large, & Palmer, 2011). We have shown that synchronization with speech (see Lidji et al, 2011) as well as music is aided by listeners’ sensitivity to the onsets of produced and perceived beats. This work indicates that temporal structure is fundamental to understanding how people perceive meaningful events in a continuously varying auditory world.


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