Dissertation in Open on ProQuest

Finally, my PhD dissertation is posted in full on ProQuest, open access to all. It’s a bit of a behemoth at 64 MB and 441 pages, but if you want to know everything about involuntary respiratory phase alignment to music, this is the document for you.

The first half is a lot of technical details on how to get relevant timing information from respiratory sequence recordings. The second is a long analysis of when alignments arise and what that says about how our breathing is engaged by what we are listening to.

I feel lucky to have had the time to dig deep in the analysis. The patterns are investigated from the perspective of the individual musical works used as stimuli AND from the perspective of individual listeners in five case studies. And as associations arose between respiratory behaviour and musical events, the last section focuses on how these relate to known (or hypothesized) respiratory control mechanisms. By studying the details, this dissertation goes from detection of a little known phenomenon to testable hypotheses about causal mechanisms. I look forward to putting each of these to the test.

I’m really proud of this work. It brings together research from multiple fields and made use of all my formal training plus a lot I had to learn outside of the classroom. (Like everything about the respiratory system. That certainly wasn’t covered in math, or music theory, or psych classes…)

Full Abstract:

This dissertation explores the surprising phenomenon of listeners’ unconsciously breathing in time to music, inspiring and expiring at select moments of specific works. When and how the experience of hearing music might produce stimulus-synchronous respiratory events is studied through Repeated Response Case Studies, gathering participants’ respiratory sequences during repeated listenings to recorded music, and through Audience Response Experiments, responses for participants experiencing live music together in a concert hall.

Activity Analysis, a new statistical technique, supported the development and definition of discrete phase components of the breath cycle that come into coordination: the onsets of inspiration and expiration, the intervals of high flow during these two main phases, and the post-expiration pause. Alignment in these components across listenings illuminate when the naturalistic complex stimuli can attract or cue listener respiration events.

Four patterns of respiratory phase alignment are identified through detailed analysis of stimuli and responses. Participants inspired with the inspirations of vocalists and wind performers, suggesting embodied perception and imagined action may exert influence on their quiet breathing. Participants suppressed and delayed inspirations when the music was highly unpredictable, suggesting adaptation in aid of auditory attention. Similar behaviour occurred with sustained sounds of exceptional aesthetic value. Participants inspired with recurring motivic material and similar high salience events, as if marking them in recognition or amplifying their affective impact. And finally, participants occasionally breathed following structural endings, suggesting a sigh-like function of releasing the respiratory system from cortical control.

These instances of music-aligned respiratory phase alignment seemed to be stronger in participants who were typically active with heard music, but the impacts of training and expertise was not a simple condition for this behaviour. Contrasts between case study participants showed highly idiosyncratic patterns of respiratory alignment and differences in susceptibility along side moments of shared effect. In the audience experiments, alignment within phase components was measurable and significant, but rarely involved more than a quarter of participants in any given instance. These levels of concurrent activity in respiration underline the subtlety of this bodily response to music.

And if you want to know more than what you can find in the document, or borrow scripts/data that haven’t been posted yet, get in Touch!


About that dissertation

I’d been keeping quiet about my thesis research prior to running experiments, but an update is now long over due.

My dissertation is on the measurement of changes in respiration during music listening, capturing when and how a (seated, attentive) listener’s breathing changes. It’s messy measurements from multiple data sets, and musical stimuli of many genres, and lots of heavy non-parametric statistics, and it makes me smile every time I work on it. Considering the respiratory cycle is not terribly difficult to track passively, the more information we can gather via this discrete signal, the better, right? There are a lot of potential uses, a lot of different types of information we might glean from this signal, but I am hesitant to write out these possibilities before more I’ve completed a few more tests.

Dissertation topic: Listener’s Respiratory Adaptation to Music

I’m only part way through the dissertation proposal process, but I’m very excited about it, so below is a description of the topic. Illustrative examples of respiratory coordination can be found on the Solo Response Project Blog. Also here is a PDF of the below.  (and yes, I really should edit more. My apologies.)

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