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Personal profile


I'm a Distinguished Professor of the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Music, Sound and Performance Lab at Macquarie University. I am also a Chief Investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD), and Founding Director of the Centre for Elite Performance, Expertise and Training. I completed my honours BSc from McGill University, and then a PhD from Queen's University, Canada. My PhD thesis concerned perceptual aspects of Bach Chorale music. After finishing my PhD, I worked for a period in Stockholm at the Department of Speech, Music and Hearing, Royal Institute of Technology, and then at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. I then moved to academic positions first at University of Queensland, and then York University, Toronto, where I stayed for 14 years. During my time in Toronto, I also become involved in composing music for film, theatre, and radio. In 2002, I moved to yet another position at University of Toronto, where I was Professor and Director of Communication, Culture, and Information Technology. I moved to Macquarie University in 2007. 

Research interests

I am interested in how the mind works, using methods from cognitive psychology. I am especially interested in the cognitive, emotional, social and cultural implications of music. Music is profoundly important to people all around the world, and we are now starting to understand why. Together with other members of the Music Sound and Performance Lab, we are studying issues such as musical creativity, music and emotion, music and the imagination, musical disorders, and uses of music as treatment for neurological disorders such as dementia.

The Music Sound and Performance lab is highly productive, and we have published more than 120 articles and chapters on these topics. I also wrote a general book on the subject called "Music, Thought and Feeling: Understanding the Psychology of Music" (Oxford University Press, 2014) which summarises the most influential research in this area. 


I teach in the areas of auditory cognition, and music psychology. I convene a unit entitled, "Music, Mind and Message (PSY250) which considers the role of music in society, what it means to us, and how we make sense of it. I also teach classes in the area of cognition, usually focusing on auditory cognition or language. 

Research student supervision

I supervise numerous students at honours, masters, and PhD levels. Prospective students should first determine whether they are eligible for the program, and then contact me to determine my capacity to accept another student into the Music Sound and Performance lab. 

Community engagement

Aside from my work with journals and international societies in my field, I also enjoy working with industry and community partners. As part of my research on music-based treatment for neurological impairment, I work with several age-care facilities in NSW. 

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Projects 2008 2019

Research Output 1989 2018

Episodic Memory
Alzheimer Disease

Decoding the dynamic representation of musical pitch from human brain activity

Sankaran, N., Thompson, W. F., Carlile, S. & Carlson, T. A. 16 Jan 2018 In : Scientific Reports. 8, 1, p. 1-9 9 p., 839

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Open Access
Motor Cortex
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Listener expertise enhances intelligibility of vocalisations in Death Metal music

Olsen, K. N., Thompson, W. F. & Giblin, I. Jun 2018 In : Music Perception. 35, 5, p. 527-539 13 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

On the enjoyment of violence and aggression in music

Thompson, W. F. & Olsen, K. N. Aug 2018 In : Physics of Life Reviews. 25, p. 128-130 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/opinion