Skip to Main Content

Yale Researchers to Study How Music Affects People With Psychosis

October 17, 2019
by Lucile Bruce

Philip Corlett, PhD, associate professor in the Yale School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, will receive a $2.1 million grant to study the impact of music on people with psychotic illnesses. The grant supports five years of mixed-methods research, incorporating both neuroscience and social science to gather insight into how music works in the brains of individuals experiencing psychosis.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the grant through its Sound Health initiative—a partnership between the NIH and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts—that launched in 2017 to explore the brain’s relationship with music. Sound Health aims to better understand the potential of music for treating a wide range of conditions resulting from neurological and other disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, chronic pain, and many more. This year’s grants are the first awarded through the initiative. 

Dr. Corlett, a cognitive neuroscientist who works on the brain mechanisms of psychosis, perception, and belief, is the principal investigator of the Yale study. His collaborators include Michael Rowe, PhD, co-director of the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health and an expert in qualitative research methods; Adam Christoferson, founder and director of Musical Intervention; Sarah Fineberg, MD, PhD; Al Powers, MD; and Claire Bien, M.Ed. Their broader interdisciplinary team incorporates computational psychiatrists, clinicians, musicologists, advocates, and people with lived experience of psychosis. The group is affiliated with Connecticut Mental Health Center, a clinical and research hub of the Yale Department of Psychiatry that is run in collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).

Dr. Corlett's study aims to understand why listening to and making music helps mitigate distress in people with psychotic illnesses. Using neuroscientific testing and qualitative interviewing, researchers will try to uncover the mechanisms behind a music-based intervention called SING (“song-making in a group”). To learn more about the study, visit the Sound Health funding page.

“We are very excited to receive one of the first-ever Sound Health Initiative grants,” said Dr. Corlett. “In clinical settings, we have witnessed firsthand how music-making has an incredibly positive impact on people in mental health recovery, including those experiencing psychotic illnesses. We are eager to learn why by investigating the underlying brain mechanisms at work. In the long run, we hope our work will help to unlock the power of music to improve human health.”

“The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services recognizes the power of music in helping individuals along in their recovery, and we offer music therapy in a number of our facilities,” said DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, PhD. “This grant is an opportunity to demonstrate the positive impacts of music on mental health, and to gain a better understanding of music’s physiological impact on the brain as well.”

To learn more, or to inquire about participating in the study, please contact Dr. Corlett’s lab at belieflab@yale.edu.

Submitted by Lucile Bruce on October 10, 2019