Pioneer in the psychology of music, Sandra Trehub, dies at 84

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Sandra Trehub, a psychologist and researcher whose work explores how babies perceive sounds, and how lullabies and music fit into their cognitive and social development, died on January 20 at her home in Toronto. She was 84 years old.

The death was confirmed by his son, Andrew Cohen.

During a half century as a psychologist at the University of Toronto, where he began working in 1973, Dr. Trehub did seminal work in the area now known as the psychology of music.

“At that time there were very few people in psychology and neuroscience who were studying music as a form of human behavior,” Laurel Trainor, a psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said in a phone interview. “Look, music is universal, we spend a lot of time and energy on music – what’s the purpose of it? Why do we do it?” Sandra said.

Dr. Trehub’s research found that there are indeed universally shared responses to music among infants, beginning with sing-song-y baby talk by parents from different cultures.

She found that infants prefer certain melodic intervals over others and can discern the contour and shape of a lullaby. She further established that infants and children – better than adults – can notice differences in certain elements of music from other countries and cultures, both tonal and rhythmic. That finding suggested that as people get older, their ability to distinguish dissonances in unfamiliar music decreases, while their ability to notice nuances in familiar music increases.

“Sandra was the first psychologist to study musical abilities in infants,” Isabelle Peretz, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, wrote in an email. Before Dr. Trehub, he said, many researchers thought “music was a pure cultural product acquired and held by a select few: musicians.”

It is now widely accepted that music is an important developmental tool for everyone, starting in infancy, and that musical interactions between parents can profoundly affect their children’s long-term health and mental development. Could

“Her work helps legitimize childhood music education, which basically didn’t exist before the 1980s,” says Samuel Mehr, a psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and director of the music lab at Haskins Laboratories, Yale University. he said. E-mail.

Dr. Trehb’s findings may seem innocuous or obvious now, but it only highlights the importance of his work, he said. He said, “Every bit of research in the psychology of music over the past 40 years can be traced back to Sandra Trehub.”

Sandra Edith Trehub was born on May 21, 1938 in Montreal. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from McGill University in Montreal in 1959 and a master’s degree in psychology in 1971.

After completing his doctorate at McGill, he began his career as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Some of her early work showed how infants as young as one month old could differentiate between speech sounds; In one paper, she wrote that babies would increase their “sucking rate” on an artificial nipple when new tones were introduced.

Using the same method, Dr. Trehub showed in another paper how children can distinguish better than adults between sounds in some foreign languages. Janet Worker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, said this discovery provided the basis for a large body of subsequent research showing that babies are born with the ability to pick out the basic phonics of any of the world’s languages. . Research has served to raise the importance of early exposure to foreign languages, with continuing implications in education.

As Dr. Trehub earned tenure at the University of Toronto, his work shifted from speech to music. He published in journals, including two influential papers in 1977. One showed that the heart rate of five-month-old infants changed when exposed to different rhythms. Another showed that infants can understand the relationship between tones—they can tell when the same chord is transposed to a different key. Dr. Trehub’s research was partly inspired by his own love of music; Two of his favorite singers were Leonard Cohen and David Bowie.

Dr. Trehub’s 1957 marriage to Norman Cohen ended in divorce in 1968. She married Ronald Mathew in 1970; He died in 2007. In addition to his son Andrew, he is survived by two more children, Dana and Ira Cohen; his sisters, Estelle Ebert and Maxine Seidman; 18 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

She also leaves an intellectual lineage of psychologists who studied with her and went on to head some of the most active psychology of music laboratories in the world.

Dr. Trainor, one of Dr. Trehub’s early graduate students, recalled giving talks on the psychology of music in the 1980s and ’90s, with audiences of no more than 10 people. Now there are conferences with thousands of researchers.

“Part of that is a testament to Sandra and the quality of her work – she cannot be overlooked,” Dr. Trainor said.

Glenn Schellenberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, who worked with Dr. Wrote over 30 articles with TreHub, agreed. “She was like Joni Mitchell,” he said over the phone. “In the end, she really got all the credit she deserved.”

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