Max Planck - NYU Center for Language, Music and Emotion

Max Planck - NYU Center for Language, Music and Emotion

Language and music on the one hand; emotion, memory and decision-making on the other; research activities in these areas usually take place independently of one another. In a joint research project, the Max Planck Society and New York University have set themselves the task of an experimental investigation into the interfaces between these traditionally independent research areas. On March 12, the new Max Planck - NYU Center for Language, Music and Emotion (ClaME) was officially opened in New York City.

Aesthetic experiences and practices have been shaping cultures since the very beginning of humanity. Aesthetically motivated decisions permeate the whole of our everyday life. This is where the Center for Language, Music and Emotion comes in, seeking answers to challenging interdisciplinary research questions: What role do emotions play in language learning? Do we perceive an underlying syntactic structure in music, in the same way that we do with language? What cognitive processes and representations form the basis of our aesthetic judgements, and how do our aesthetic preferences develop during the course of our lives?

In order to get to the bottom of questions such as these, two partners whose main areas of work complement each other perfectly are working together: The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, founded in 2012, is dedicated to researching the psychological, neuronal and socio-cultural foundations of aesthetic perceptions - in particular music, language and literature. The Department of Psychology and the Center for Neural Science at New York University are world leaders in the study of emotions, memory, and decision-making. “Together, we want to take an experimental approach to exploring aesthetic experiences - from the perspective of psychology and neuroscience,” says David Poeppel, one of the initiators of the new research centre. The Director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, together with Catherine Hartley, Professor of Psychology, Cognition and Perception at New York University, will lead the research activities.

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics investigates what is aesthetically pleasing to whom, why, and under what circumstances, and what functions aesthetical practices and preferences have for individuals and societies. It is currently the only non-university research facility worldwide devoted to interdisciplinary basic research on aesthetic perception and evaluation. In the interplay of the humanities and the sciences, the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics draws on a broad multidisciplinary competence and a variety of methods.

Whether studying biophysical and neurochemical mechanisms within individual nerve cells, functional neuronal circuits consisting of a small number of neurons, the behaviour of large nervous systems or the relationship between the activity of elements of the nervous system and the behaviour of organisms - the New York University Center for Neural Science, founded in 1987, unites research disciplines that examine the function of the brain. The various experimental approaches range from the analysis of molecular and cellular mechanisms in nerve cells, through to groups of nerve cells, and up to investigations of whole organisms. Theoretical tools include mathematical and computational modelling approaches that have proved successful in other fields of science.

In addition to developing new technologies and methods, the Center for Language, Music and Emotion will facilitate the exchange of knowledge between researchers and promote the education and training of scientists. The new centre comprises four interconnected and interactive research groups, of which two are located at the MPI in Frankfurt and two at New York University in New York City. The Max Planck Society and New York University are each investing an equal share of a total of two million euros in the centre, which is planned to run for a period of five years. The majority of the budget will go towards financing joint projects and educating and training junior scientists.

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