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Psychology Today

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Science News (special issue: A Mind for Music)

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Acoustics Research Letters Online

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Computer Music Journal

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SMPC Achievement Awards: 2013

The 2013 Achievement Awards were presented to Sandra Trehub and Mari Riess Jones. Below is the text of the awards speech, presented by David Temperley.


Our first winner has spent a lifetime working on auditory perception in infants. After receiving her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from McGill. she focused in her early career on speech perception in infants, prolifically publishing papers on topics including infants’ sensitivity to native and non-native speech contrasts, the development of speech discrimination in infants, and their perception of speech in noise.

Then, in around 1984, she saw the light and turned her attention to music—adding to her repertoire investigations on melody, timbre and interval perception in infants. She spearheaded a large body of work on lullabies and other songs sung to babies and young children by their mothers, fathers and older siblings.

This work not only sheds light on the effects that these infant-directed songs have on child development, but also provides a fascinating look into the similarities and differences among such songs across cultures. Recently, she has extended that research into hearing impairment, studying the role of melodies and songs in cochlear-implanted children.

Now, more than 40 years after her first publication, she is still going strong with a dozen publications in the past two years in top-tier journals, and many more in press. Her pioneering and seminal research in developmental music cognition has been a crucial contribution to our field, and an inspiration to us all. It is my great pleasure to award SMPC’s Achievement Award to Sandra Trehub.


It is a rare achievement to propose brand-new scientific ideas that are as experimentally tractable as they are novel, and to pursue them with bravery and tenacity in the face of formidable initial resistance. Our second award winner has done both of these things.

In the 1970s, the dominant conceptualization of time was as a one-dimensional void – something that distinguishes past from present from future. Time was used as a measure of the duration of processing, that is, as a dependent variable. In a landmark paper in 1976, our award winner pointed out that time itself contains structure and information. Time is not simply linear – it contains cycles and patterns of varying complexity. Time is not a void – it is marked by events in our environment: musical notes, spoken syllables, dancers’ movements.

Her ideas were ‘Gibsonian’, but her contribution went beyond simply pointing to structure. She made a much more controversial claim – that the human perceiver is guided by time, through a process in which internal biological rhythms synchronize with external rhythms, as are found in music. It was here that the notion of “rhythmic attending” was born. She and her students went on formalize the entrainment of “attending rhythms” to environmental rhythms, and to rigorously test the resulting hypotheses. She inspired generations of psychologists and neuroscientists to do the same.

By now, these ideas have gained strong empirical support. And they are becoming increasingly important as a framework for understanding the role of rhythm in perceiving, attending, and remembering, more generally.

She is a psychologist with a large-scale theoretical vision—a vision that has become part of the very fabric of music cognition. Along the way she has proven to be an inspiring, caring, and gracious, yet demanding mentor. We have all benefited from the depth of her ideas and the significance of her endeavors, and the entire field of music cognition has benefited as well. Our second SMPC achievement award winner is Mari Riess Jones.