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

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sandra Trehub, pioneer in the psychology of music, dies at 84
Sandra Trehub in an undated photo. Trehub, a psychologist and researcher whose work helped illuminate how children perceive sound, and how lullabies and music fit into their cognitive and social development, died on Jan. 20, 2023, at her home in Toronto. She was 84. (via Andrew Cohen via The New York Times)

by Oliver Whang

NEW YORK, NY.- Sandra Trehub, a psychologist and researcher whose work helped illuminate how children perceive sound, and how lullabies and music fit into their cognitive and social development, died Jan. 20 at her home in Toronto. She was 84.

The death was confirmed by her son Andrew Cohen.

Over a half-century as a psychologist at the University of Toronto, where she began working in 1973, Trehub produced seminal work in the field that is now known as the psychology of music.

“Back then, there were very few people in psychology and neuroscience who were studying music at all as a human behavior,” Laurel Trainor, a psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, said in a phone interview. “Sandra said, look, music is universal, we spend a lot of time and energy on music — what is its purpose? Why do we do this?”

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

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

“Sandra was the first psychologist to study musical abilities for their own sake in infants,” Isabelle Peretz, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, wrote in an email. Before Trehub, she added, many researchers thought “that musicality was a pure cultural product which was acquired and possessed by a few select people: the musicians.”

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

“Her work helps to legitimize early childhood music education, which basically didn’t exist before the 1980s,” Samuel Mehr, a psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and director of the Music Lab at Haskins Laboratories, Yale University, said by email.

Trehub’s findings might seem intuitive or even obvious now, he added, but that only highlights the importance of her work. “Every bit of research in the psychology of music over the past 40 years can be traced back to Sandra Trehub,” he said.

Sandra Edythe Trehub was born May 21, 1938, in Montreal. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics at McGill University in Montreal in 1959 and her master’s in psychology there in 1971.

After completing her doctorate, also at McGill, she began her career as an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Some of her earliest work showed how infants as young as 1 month old could distinguish between speech sounds; in a paper, she wrote that babies would increase their “sucking rate” on an artificial nipple when new vowels were introduced.

Using the same methodology, Trehub went on to show in another paper how babies can distinguish between sounds in some foreign languages better than adults. That finding, said Janet Werker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, provided the groundwork for a large body of subsequent research demonstrating that babies are born with the ability to pick up on the basic acoustics of any of the world’s languages. The research has served to heighten the importance of early exposure to foreign languages, with continuing ramifications in education.

As Trehub earned tenure at the University of Toronto, her work shifted from speech to music. She published prolifically in journals, including two influential papers in 1977. One showed that the heart rates of 5-month-old infants changed when exposed to different rhythms. The other showed that infants can sense the relationships between notes — they can tell when the same melody is transposed to a different key. Trehub’s research was inspired in part by her own love of music; two of her favorite singers were Leonard Cohen and David Bowie.

Trehub’s marriage to Norman Cohen in 1957 ended in divorce in 1968. She married Ronald Matthews in 1970; he died in 2007. In addition to her son Andrew, she is survived by two more children, Dana and Ira Cohen; her 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 labs in the world.

Trainor, one of Trehub’s early graduate students, remembered going to talks on the psychology of music in the 1980s and ’90s with little more than 10 people in the audience. Now there are conferences with thousands of researchers.

“Part of that is a testament to Sandra, and the quality of her work — she couldn’t be ignored,” Trainor said.

Glenn Schellenberg, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who wrote more than 30 articles with Trehub, agreed. “She was like Joni Mitchell,” he said by phone. “In the end, she really got every credit that she deserved.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

February 18, 2023

Derrick Adams takes off

Magic: The Gathering becomes a billion-dollar brand for toymaker Hasbro

Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse......opens at The Belvedere

Martina Morger curates the exhibition 'Are We Dead Yet?' for Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein

Major group show of female artists opens at GIANT Gallery

Ming Smith's poetic blur

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art opens two spring exhibitions

The Julia Stoschek Foundation presents Ulysses Jenkins' first major retrospective in Europe

Kunsthal Gent presents a temporary solo exhibition by Eleni Kamma

Saatchi Gallery presents the most comprehensive graffiti & street art exhibition to open in the UK

Poster Auctions International announces Rare Posters Auction #89

Heritage announces International Original Art & Anime Signature Auction

Crafting Worldviews: Art and Science in Europe, 1500-1800 opens at Yale University Art Gallery

Yale University Art Gallery appoints Irma Passeri as the Susan Morse Hilles Chief Conservator

William College Museum of Art opens exhibition on Tibetan art from the Jack Shear Collection

Kunsthaus Baselland presents a series of works by Pia Fries

Wagner's 'Lohengrin' uses the word 'Führer.' Keep it there.

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

Rashawn Griffin exhibits at Ballon Rouge in Brussels

Dia announces major Senga Nengudi exhibition at Dia Beacon

Review: In 'The Wanderers,' two marriages and a movie star

GRIMM Gallery presents an exhibition of works by Volker Hüller

Finest Italian Marble Sculptures Around the World

The Future of Corporate Hotel Rates: Trends and Predictions

The Ultimate Guide to Hurela Lace Frontal Wigs

The Benefits of Brand Compliance for Customer Trust and Loyalty.

Chic Ways to Decorate Your Room with Neon Tube Lamps

Arf No! Jeff Koons's $42,000 Glass Sculpture of a Blue Balloon Dog Shattered in Miami

Restaurants Selling Art on Their Walls Boost Revenue by 12% in London

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful