Zachary Wallmark, Graduate Student, under the guidance of Professor Robert Fink and in collaboration with Professor Marco Iacoboni (Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences) just received a $25,000 UCLA Council on Research (COR) Transdisciplinary Seed Grant. "This seed grant opportunity was created to provide funding for the North campus disciplines in furtherance of new transdisciplinary research and scholarship, with the notion that the collaboration between different disciplines and faculty members would open the door to new areas of inquiry and possibilities that otherwise could not have been explored within the confines of a single discipline." More info on the program can be found here.

The project is, "Understanding Musical Empathy Through the Audiomotor Mirror Neuron System," and will use fMRI imaging to examine what happens in the brain when test subjects listen to music they love...and music they hate. As Zachary put in his proposal:

"A musicologist and a neuroscientist join forces in order to better understand music's unique power to unite people through shared empathy or to divide people based on cultural or other factors. The researchers plan an experiment involving the brain imaging of 20 participants -- 10 musicians and 10 non-musicians-- as they listen to excerpts of three different kinds of music: unfamiliar music, music they claim to "strongly like," and music they claim to "strongly dislike."  A fourth baseline condition (the control) involves examining the brain during the presentation of white noise.  If successful, the researchers expect that the results of this study could propose a biomarker of musical liking in humans, thereby laying the foundation for a theory of musical empathy rooted in embodied cognition.  The researchers plan to publish the results in neuroscientific and musicological journals and use the data for grant applications to NSF and NEH."

Professor Fink and Zachary Wallmark are excited to bring the department's musicological expertise and sensitivity to culture into a realm where brain scientists have largely been working either on their own or in more purely medical contexts (hearing aids, etc.).