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Woman listening to music v2

Durham Music Scholar, Dr Kelly Jakubowski, has been successful in her application for a prestigious grant from the Leverhulme Trust, enabling her to carry out a research project investigating the impact that music has on what we imagine.  

Dr Jakubowski will collaborate with Prof Elizabeth Margulis, Princeton University, and a team over a period of three years. Their research aims to improve our understanding of how music can enhance creativity and well-being through the rich mental worlds it elicits. 

Kelly was previously a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow for a project which explored the power of music in connecting us to memories of the past.  

The project will feed into an emerging body of research in psychology and neuroscience which demonstrates that memory and imagination are strongly linked.  

Dr Kelly Jakubowski says: “A piece of music can bring back near-forgotten memories from our pasts or stimulate newly imagined scenes, sensations and stories. Indeed, one of the main reasons we derive such pleasure from music listening is the range of mental associations it evokes.” 

The project team, who will be based in Durham, will first aim to develop a broad overview of different types of imaginings evoked during music listening, before exploring how features of both music and the features of the individual listener impact on the imaginings. For example, they will explore whether certain sound patterns, timbres, or rhythms lead to particular imagined content. They will also consider whether listeners from similar backgrounds share commonalities in music-evoked imaginings. 

The project will begin in January 2024.  


As an example, consider what you think of when you hear this clip.   

Compare what you imagined to feedback from listeners who heard the same clip in a preliminary study run by Dr Jakubowski’s team:  

  • An American TV show came to mind based around the experiences of kids at high school and growing up, almost like this would have been the theme tune for the show 
  • Sounded very American somehow, might've been the clapping made me think of American high school movies, road trips, and advertising music 
  • I didn't have any deep thoughts but I thought this sounded very early 2000s movie for teenagers, probably set in a high school 
  • I imagined being at a small local festival in summer where the sun was shining and there was a really nice vibe around the place I could see lots of flags waving while the band played and imagined the taste of cider in my mouth 
  • I imagined myself at a recent music festival I attended and the noisy relaxed happy vibe of the early evening performer. People stood facing the stage, singing and swaying to the music 
  • It sounds like the sort of music you hear in a cider advert, so in my head I saw a cider advert