Psychology Professor Presents at the World Science Festival

By Scott Brent, Contributor

Dr. Tan poses with her book "Psychology of Music" (Photo by Rachel Leider)

Dr. Siu-Lan Tan, Associate Professor of Psychology at Kalamazoo College, was asked by the senior producer at the World Science Festival to perform a live replication of a film music study she published in 2008 with K student Elizabeth Wakefield ‘08, who now has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience.

The film study was concerning music and how it shapes narratives, which includes viewer interpretations of the scenes and character interactions in the film.

The World Science Festival was co-founded in 2008 by Brian Greene, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book The Elegant Universe, and four-time Emmy award-winning journalist Tracy Day.  The purpose of the festival is to bring cutting-edge scientific research to the public.

Every summer, top researchers in their respective fields of academia are chosen to present their ideas in events yielding mass appeal. All fifty events held each summer since 2008 notoriously sold out.

“When you’re publishing your research in a scholarly journal, it is a very slow process – from submission to print can take six to twelve months or more,” said Dr. Tan, “but social media ignites like wildfire!  You see the impact immediately and that’s very exciting.”

During the week of Sept. 17 – 21, actor Alec Baldwin was the artistic director for Film Week, which offered nightly orchestral performances of critically acclaimed film-music. The final event, which was co-presented by the New York Philharmonic and the World Science Festival, was called, “The Art of the Score: The Mind, Music, and Moving Images.”

The event featured a panel discussion with presenters, including prominent neuroscientist Dr. Aniruddh Patel, as well as Joel and Ethan Coen (Academy Award-winning directors of notable films such as Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, etc.), and Carter Burwell, a composer under the direction of the Coen Brothers.

The topic of discussion was how film-music plays an integral role in how people interpret what they view on the big screen.  Neuroscientist Dr. Patel mentioned Dr. Tan’s replication during the panel discussion as a way to shed light on the influence of music on viewers’ interpretation of the storyline of a film

Dr. Tan’s blog post was not only a landmark in receiving critical acclaimation as a scientist, but also acted as her gateway into the social networking realm, as her post was extremely popular on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.

“As an educator, it’s such a happy thought to me that people are finding a study interesting enough to tweet to their followers, or share on Facebook,” said Dr. Tan.

In order to produce the film study, Dr. Tan worked with K students and was very thankful for their research. These student assistants were Rachel Jeffery ‘10, Emily Rohn ‘10, and Clay Garnett ‘08.

Their procedure and findings can be found on the World Science Festival website and at Oxford University Press Blog at http://blog.oup.com/2013/09/how-film-music-shapes-narrative/ .