Walter Dowling

Walter Dowling


Research Interests: Music cognition, auditory perception, emotion and meaning in music, and cross-cultural studies

GR 4.202B
Music Perception and Cognition (MPaC) Laboratory
Curriculum Vitae

Not currently accepting undergraduate students

Tags: Cognition and Neuroscience Psychology-Faculty

Professional Preparation

Ph.D. - Social Psychology
Harvard University - 1968
A. M.
Harvard University - 1966
A. B. - Psychology
Northwestem University - 1963

Research Areas

Research Interests

I work primarily on music cognition and its development. Currently the main series of experiments focuses on the improvement of discrimination between repetitions of musical phrases and highly similar transformations of those phrases over time periods of 1 minute or so after the phrase was initially heard. This improvement occurs while the listener continues listening to the piece of music. Recently we have replicated this result with poetry (in contrast to prose, for which memory declines over the 1-minute delay).


Tillmann, B., Dowling, W. J., Lalitte, P., Molin, P., Schulze, K., Poulin-Charronnat, B., Schoen, D., & Bigand, E. Influence of expressive versus mechanical musical performance on short-term memory for musical excerpts. Music Perception, 2013, 30, 419-425. 2013 - Publication
Schulze, K., Dowling, W. J., & Tillmann, B. Working memory for tonal and atonal sequences during a forward and a backward recognition task. Music Perception, 2011, 29, 255-268. 2011 - Publication
Dowling, W. J. Music perception. In C. Plack (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Auditory Science: Hearing, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 231-248. 2010 - Publication
Dowling, W. J. Musical Development ln R. A. Shweder (ed.), The Chicago Companion to the Child, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006, 2006 - Publication
Dowling, W. J. Music perception. ln E. B. Goldstein (Ed.) Handbook of perception. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, pp. 469-498. 2001 - Publication
Dowling, W. J. Music perception. In W. Kintsch (Ed.) International encyclopedia of the social and behavioral sciences, vol. 21: Cognitive psychology and cognitive science. London: Elsevier, 2001, ch. 20. 2001 - Publication
Dowling, W. J., Tillmann, B., & Ayers, D. Memory and the experience of hearing music. Music Perception, 2001, 19, 249-276. 2001 - Publication
Dowling, W. J. The development of music perception and cognition. In D. Deutsch (Ed.) The Perception of Music (2nd ed.). Orlando, FL: Academic Press, 1999, pp. 603-625. 1999 - Publication


Program Head
University of Texas at Dallas [1989–Present]
University of Texas at Dallas [1978–1989]
Associate Professor
University of Texas at Dallas [1975–1978]
Assistant Professor
California State University, Los Angeles, [1973–1975]
Assistant Professor
University of Texas at Dallas [1973–1975]
Assistant Professor
University of California, Los Angeles, [1966–1973]
Teaching Fellow
Harvard University [1964–1966]
College of William & Mary Summer Band School, [1963–1966]

Additional Information

Fellowships, Awards & Honors
  • Tuition scholarship, Northwestem University, 1959–1963
  • Woodrow Wilson Fellow, 1963
  • J. P. Guilford Award for Theoretical Papers in Psychology, 1965
  • NIMH Predoctoral Fellow, 1965-1966
  • University of Califomia Innovation ln Instruction Award, 1971
  • Member of Advisory Panel, international Conference on Psychology and the Arts, Cardiff, Wales, September, 1983
  • Fellow, Acoustical Society of America, 1986
  • Member of Advisory Committee, First lntemationai Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Kyoto, Japan, October. 1989
  • Member of Advisory Committee and Co-Chair of Program Committee, Second international Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Los Angeles, February, 1992.
  • Member of Executive Committee, Third international Conference for Music Perception and Cognition, Liege, Belgium, July, 1994.
  • Member, Technical Committee on Musical Acoustics, Acoustical Society of America (1997-8).
  • Vice-President, Society for Music Perception and Cognition (1998).
  • Member of Advisory Committee, Fifth lntemationai Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Seoul, August, 1998.
Personal Statement

I received my education at Northwestern University, first in music and then in psychology (B.A., 1963) under the guidance of Arnold Jacobs (music) and Donald T. Campbell (psychology). My graduate education was in the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, working in child language development under the guidance of Roger Brown and in auditory perception with Donald A. Norman (A.M., 1966; Ph.D., Social Psychology, 1968). I taught at UCLA (1966-73) and at California State University, Los Angeles (1973-75) before coming to UT Dallas in 1975. My principal area of interest is the perception and cognition of music, the subject of my book (with Dane Harwood) Music Cognition (1986). I am an associate editor of the journal Music Perception, and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.

My research interests have centered on the psychological reality and relevance to perception and memory of patterns of musical organization. What do listeners understand of music they have just heard? How do listening skills develop over the lifespan? One series of studies concerns the implicit knowledge listeners have of musical structure. Typical studies investigate memory for melodies differing in such features as strength of tonality (tonal vs. atonal), contrasting recognition of changes in the global patterns of melodies (melodic contour) with recognition of changes in the fine intervallic detail, note for note, of melodies. A surprising result that I have been investigating intensively for the past few years concerns the improvement of memory for fine melodic detail that seems to occur automatically over the first 3 minutes after you hear a novel melody.

Another series of my studies investigates the listener's ability to focus attention in pitch and time in order to pick up important information in a sequence of tones. A typical task is an auditory analog of the visual "hidden figures" test in which you have to find six lions hidden in the jungle. Listeners are asked to discern a familiar melody whose notes have been temporally interleaved with distractor notes. Listeners can use their knowledge of where (in pitch) and when (in time) critical events are located to focus their attention effectively. Notes at distinctly unexpected times and pitches become "lost" to perception, and notes at slightly unexpected pitches (quarter-step neighbors of scale notes) become assimilated to their scale-step neighbors. That is, pitches in a rapid sequence are encoded by the listener in terms of familiar categories. These studies have been extended to cover the development of music cognition from early childhood into old age. The importance of perceptual learning in shaping the listener's musical experience is clear, and it is important to study the progress of that learning throughout the lifespan.


Acoustical Society of America (Fellow) Psychonomic Society Society for Music Perception 8. Cognition Psi Chi Sigma Xi