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Statistical learning and probabilistic prediction in music cognition: mechanisms of stylistic enculturation

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Music perception depends on internal psychological models derived through exposure to a musical culture. It is hypothesized that this musical enculturation depends on two cognitive processes: (1) statistical learning, in which listeners acquire internal cognitive models of statistical regularities present in the music to which they are exposed; and (2) probabilistic prediction based on these learned models that enables listeners to organize and process their mental representations of music. To corroborate these hypotheses, I review research that uses a computational model of probabilistic prediction based on statistical learning (the information dynamics of music (IDyOM) model) to simulate data from empirical studies of human listeners. The results show that a broad range of psychological processes involved in music perception—expectation, emotion, memory, similarity, segmentation, and meter—can be understood in terms of a single, underlying process of probabilistic prediction using learned statistical models. Furthermore, IDyOM simulations of listeners from different musical cultures demonstrate that statistical learning can plausibly predict causal effects of differential cultural exposure to musical styles, providing a quantitative model of cultural distance. Understanding the neural basis of musical enculturation will benefit from close coordination between empirical neuroimaging and computational modeling of underlying mechanisms, as outlined here.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Pages (from-to)378-395
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Research areas

  • Enculturation, IDyOM, Music perception, Probabilistic prediction, Statistical learning

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