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Psychology professor a pioneer in music perception and cognition

By Anita Jansman

“What is it about music?” That has been and remains the key question for Lola Cuddy (Professor Emerita, Psychology) as she blazed a research trail throughout her career in the field of music perception and cognition.

When she began study in the specialized field, there were few scholars and research on the topic was scarce. In fact, since the late nineteen-seventies, Dr. Cuddy has been a forerunner of the discipline and is now considered a preeminent scholar in this fascinating field of study.

In August, she was honoured with a citation to mark the tenth anniversary of her outstanding editorship of Music Perception (U of California Press), the primary journal in the research field of music perception.

Lola Cuddy, Professor of Psychology

Tracing back to her early years Dr. Cuddy explains the trajectory that led to her study of “music and the mind.”

“I was brought up in a musical household in Winnipeg. My mother was a choreographer and worked with theatre groups in the city and my aunt was a choir director and later became president of the Canadian Music Educators association,” she says.

Music was a central component of Winnipeg’s cultural landscape, and she was given ample opportunity to study piano.

At university in Manitoba, Dr. Cuddy studied psychology and continued her academic pursuits at the University of Toronto, where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. She discovered that it was possible to study music beyond the traditional curriculum for piano students. Her passion for music could be combined with a topic of auditory phenomena, on which she wrote her thesis.

In 1965, Dr. Cuddy came to Queen’s with her husband, Mel Wiebe (General Editor Emeritus of the Benjamin Disraeli Letter Project and Professor of Victorian Literature), first to teach Perception and Advanced Statistics to undergraduates and Perception to graduate students, and later to establish a Music Cognition laboratory.

A growing interest in the field of music and the brain arose at about the same time her research in music perception and cognition was flourishing. She found herself supervising talented graduate students while more sophisticated computer technology propelled the discipline forward.

In 1983 the journal Music Perception was founded with a goal to publish empirical and theoretical papers from a musical perspective on such topics as psychology, acoustics, linguistics, neuroscience, neuropsychology, artificial intelligence, and computer modeling, as well as, of course, papers on music theory, music training, and corpus research methods from a psychological perspective. Dr. Cuddy became editor of Music Perception in 2003. Under her editorship, the journal has been expanded from four issues annually to five, and has seen representation from countries all over the world.

“The job of editor is exceptionally rewarding and educational,” she says.

Dr. Cuddy’s own research focuses on dementia patients. “For the typical elderly patient, when many cognitive abilities are diminished or disappear, we find that the ability to recognize and enjoy familiar music is spared,” she says. “We continue to discover why and how that is. What is it about music?”

At Queen’s, Dr. Cuddy continues to work with several graduate students to uncover the mysteries of music and the mind. “We have come a long way, but in terms of applications, especially, we still have a lot to do,” she says.