Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Malinda McPherson - Even and Uneven Partnerships

When laboratory studies involve music, it is often critical to have input from musicians in order to create ecologically valid test conditions and stimuli. For example, in a current study underway with Charles, we are examining emotional expression in jazz improvisation. Input from musicians (such as Mike Pope) was fundamental in determining our experimental design. Although we studied jazz musicians and drew on their insights, the results ultimately show more about creativity and emotional expression as general abilities than they do about music or jazz more specifically. Our results don’t immediately provide information of practical use to the musicians we studied, or to artists more generally.

Intersections between art and neuroscience are not always equally productive for both disciplines. Art can be a means for scientific inquiry, but neuroscientists cannot assume that by incorporating art forms into our studies, we are somehow helping or informing artists. Likewise, art inspired by neuroscience is not inherently helpful or informative to neuroscientists (though it certainly can be). We should not expect that every interaction between art and neuroscience can (or should) be equally beneficial to both fields.

While it is important to foster mutual constructive relationships between neuroscience and art, there is a significant place for commensal exchanges, where one discipline may benefit more than the other.

A common theme throughout the conference was that artists and neuroscientists often talk past one another. They have different reference points, lexicons, assumptions, motivations and goals. In any collaboration between the arts and neuroscience, it is important to engage with and build out from these differences. The scope of collaborations should be assessed critically, with an awareness of the distinct backgrounds and objectives of artists and scientists, and the varying outcomes for each field.

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