Personal tools
You are here: Auditory Development Lab > Research > LIVELab Studies

LIVELab Studies

Making music together: Incredible coordination!


In order to play a musical instrument, the musician’s brain needs to anticipate what wants to play next in order to have time to plan and execute the motor movements to play the next notes. When that musician plays in, for example, a string quartet or a jazz trio with other musicians, there is an added challenge. The musician also has to coordinate with the other musicians – keep in sync, phrase together, and match each other’s musical styles. If each musician waits to hear what each other are doing, it will be too late to be with together with each other!  So musicians not only have to anticipate how they are going to play next, they also have to anticipate or predict how their fellow musicians are going to play next. We have been studying how they do this. In one study, we used motion capture equipment in the LIVELab to measure the body sway of each musician. Just like how people gesture with their hands when they talk, and this helps them to speak fluently, musicians sway their bodies when they play music, and we think this helps them to plan the “big picture” of how they want to play the music. We showed, using a mathematical technique called Granger Causality, that from the body movements of one musician at one point in time, we could predict how another musician playing with them was going to move at the next point in time. In other words, through their body sway we could measure communication between the musicians!  We found that musicians assigned as “leaders” influenced other musicians in the group more than those assigned as “followers”. In a second study, we found that the higher the communication among all the musicians, as measured by body sway coupling, the listeners rated the quality of the performance. So good communication through body sway leads to great music! We believe that these coordination dynamics that we are uncovering between musicians also apply to many other situations in which people need to coordinate their actions.

 Chang, A, Kragness, H, Livingstone, S, Bosnyak, D, and Trainor, L (2019). Body sway reflects joint emotional expression in music ensemble performance. Scientific Reports, 9(205) View Abstract  Full text PDF

Baby Opera!


We all know there's something special about a live concert, especially now when we can’t go to live concerts! Whether it's a famous singer or a guitarist at your favourite local restaurant, seeing a musician performing right in front of us enhances our experience of the music compared to hearing it on a recording. In this study, researchers from the University of Toronto Scarborough (and former PHD graduates from our Auditory Development Lab, Drs. Laura Cirelli and Haley Kragness) teamed up again with us to learn how babies experience an audiovisual recording of a concert compared to the real thing. Groups of 25-30 babies came to McMaster’s unique LIVELab research-concert hall ( to watch a new musical show called "The Music Box" composed by Toronto artist Bryna Berezowska, either live or projected to the big screen. We recorded the babies’ reactions, as well as their physiological responses, like heart rate.  It made for quite a lively event, and some of it was captured on this CHCH news clip feature ( The results of the study will help us better understand the role of live performance in our emotional and physiological reactions to music. 

Analyzing attraction in speed dating: Turning the LIVELab into the LOVELab!


Social bonding is fundamental to human society, and romantic interest involves an important type of bonding. The role of nonverbal interaction has been little studied in initial romantic interest, despite being commonly viewed as a crucial factor. Speed dating is an excellent situation for investigating initial romantic interest in real-world settings, as involves a common real-world activity while at the same time allowing us to have high experimental control. We conducted a real speed dating event in the LIVELab while we measured the body sway of the participants using motion capture. The results showed that people’s long-term romantic interest can be predicted by nonverbal interactive body sway communication, above and beyond their ratings of physical attractiveness. In addition, we found that the presence of groovy background music during speed dates promoted interest in meeting a dating partner again. This novel approach to measuring non-verbal communication could potentially be applied to investigate nonverbal aspects of social bonding in other dynamic interpersonal interactions such as between infants and parents and in nonverbal populations including those with verbal communication disorders.


Chang, A, Kragness, HE, Tsou, W, Bosnyak, DJ, Thiede, A, and Trainor, LJ (2021). Body sway predicts romantic interest in speed dating. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 16(1-2), 185-192 View Abstract  Information/Download