Repeated music listening
: mapping the development of melodic expectations

  • Hayley Trower

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


It has long been asserted that the mind’s predisposition to predict the future based on the past and present underpins the understanding and enjoyment of music. An oft-considered paradox in music psychology is that if a listener’s thwarted expectations cause an emotional response, how does this occur even when a piece is familiar? This motivates two objectives that concern melodic expectations in response to repeated music listening: the first is to empirically investigate the changing interplay between varying sources of expectation in adult listeners, and the second examines how melodic expectations evolve as a result of ‘typical’ and ‘atypical’ development. Investigation is achieved by empirically examining the interaction between different forms of expectation proposed by zygonic theory: schematic, within-group and veridical. Adults, typically developing children, and children with high-functioning autism took part in two experimental sessions separated by one week. In each session, individuals rated their perceived pitch-by-pitch expectedness using a Continuous Response Measurement Apparatus in response to a 4 x repeated 26-note melody. Results show that the relationship between the three forms of expectation functions differently in each participant group. Adult listeners’ schematic and within-group expectations remain consistent, despite a cumulative increase in veridical expectations. ‘Typical’ children base their expectations on absolute properties and pairs of notes at 6-8 years, on longer sequences of notes and connected groups at 9-12 years, and more complex relational structures at 13-17 years. This aligns with age-related changes in memory capacity and efficiency. Children on the autism spectrum demonstrate a local processing bias and an ability to process global melodic structure, but not in a cumulative way that is sensitive to repetition. This implies an atypical interaction between long-term and working memory. In sum, the present thesis demonstrates how the interplay between three sources of expectation is underpinned by differences in memory function in the context of melodic repetition.
Date of Award10 Sept 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorAdam Ockelford (Supervisor) & Arielle Bonneville-Roussy (Supervisor)


  • Music
  • Melodic
  • Expectation
  • Repetition
  • Autism
  • Development

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