Researching the Brain through Balinese Gamelan

College of Arts & Sciences

Trevor McPherson is a senior music and biology double major with a minor in neuroscience from Kitty Hawk, N.C. This summer, he traveled to Indonesia to continue his research into the intersection of music and neuroscience.
While in Indonesia, senior Trevor McPherson studied a variety of gamelan styles, and participated in some performances. Photo courtesy Trevor McPherson.Throughout all of my exposure to the niche field of musical neuroscience, I have noted that the vast majority of research centers around western musical culture. Studies are conducted by western-trained musicians, examine the effects of western music on the brain, and compare non-musicians with western musicians. This dearth of cross-cultural literature in musical neuroscience is a gaping hole within the discipline. The burgeoning field of cultural neuroscience has shown us that culture can drastically shape the way our brain processes and is affected by the world. When musical neuroscience research is restricted to western concepts, structures, and participants, it discounts how our societal roots create significant variation throughout humanity.
I spent last summer abroad in Australia, interning at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behavior, and Development. I worked with the “Music, Cognition, and Action” group exploring the relationship between music and neuroscience. Much of the research there focused on rhythm in the context of coordination and synchronization. This focus has lead me to an interest in auditory entrainment and its effects on the brain.
This past semester I was involved in a new collaboration between Music Therapist Dr. Dorita Berger and Neuroscientist Dr. Flavio Frohlich, exploring the neurological effects of rhythmic entrainment. I conducted research under their guidance, bringing a new interdisciplinary component to Dr. Frohlich’s lab. Entrainment is the natural synchronization of a process with an external stimulus. We constantly entrain to our environment, whether that involves subconsciously falling into step with the person in front of us, or …

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