Welcome to UC MERCI, the UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative

Vision of UC MERCI

In the lives of most Californians, music is a seldom examined, little understood but omnipresent force shaping our thoughts, moods, aspirations, and even our purchasing behavior. Whether speeding or creeping on the I-5 freeway at rush hour, attending a social or religious function, or watching a movie or television show, Californians use music to intensify or communicate feelings, to enhance their sense of community. For many Californians, music lifts their mood as they perform uninviting tasks or face difficulties. Evidence is also steadily increasing that musical experience and training in childhood has general cognitive benefits and that music therapy can help those struggling with senility, recovering from brain injury, or attempting to walk normally while living with Parkinsons. Yet much basic research is needed to understand what aspects of musical experience convey these benefits remains to be accomplished.

Better understanding of how we make and experience music, and how music communicates to us so effectively, can provide basic tools to make both music entertainment and therapies more effective, and can also drive innovations in digital technology. Southern California is a long-term hub for use of music in movies and television, while Northern California is a new hub for another highly technical and growing industry: online music selection and recommendation. Nonetheless, we have relatively little basic scientific understanding of or even detailed data about the intimate relationships nearly all of us experience between music itself and our mental and supporting brain and bodily processes, processes that allow music to be such an effective medium for communication and such a strong source of personal and collective comfort and inspiration. New tools and methods for active and detailed recording, analysis, and modeling of these relationships are just now becoming available. Yet, despite widespread recognition of music’s ubiquitous influence on the human mind, brain, and body, there are no American centers for the basic and applied scientific study of musical experience, communication, and behavior.

The MRPI Planning Grant funds will allow us to develop a multi-campus University of California initiative for collaborative research on human musical experience and communication using new, leading- edge tools for brain/body imaging and data mining. UC MERCI will catalyze, combine, and intensify internationally recognized though now geographically-dispersed and institutionally isolated basic research in University of California on the dynamics of brain and body interactions involved in music listening, composing, performance, memory, therapy, and learning. We plan to develop an active research community that makes available cutting-edge scientific resources and methods to both established and student UC researchers, building a UC research community that attracts both outstanding researchers and companies that seek to enhance music’s transformative potential for personal and social good.

University of California President's Research Catalyst Awards


A research group from four University of California (UC) campuses have won a $300,000 President’s Research Catalyst Award, one of five such awards across the UC system announced by President Janet Napolitano. The group’s research uses music to understand the human brain by “bringing together UC experts on music listening, performance, neuroscience, brain imaging, and data science to understand the transformative potential of music for health and cognition,” says Napolitano’s announcement.

The winning project is The UC Music Experience Research Community Initiative (UC MERCI), “an American center for the scientific study of musical experience, communication, and behavior,” that will allow UC researchers to share cutting-edge resources and collaboratively develop methods to understand – and enhance – music’s ability to affect and even transform the human mind.

The MERCI initiative is among the first to receive one of the new UC Catalyst awards, which will channel $10-million over three years to fund research in areas of strategic importance, such as sustainability and climate, food and nutrition, equity and social justice, education innovation, and health care.

Colloquium: Music, the Brain, and Enjoyment

The final colloquium in the UC MERCI planning grant series. Speakers discussed Brain signals of musical rhythm (John Iversen, UCSD), and musical "chills", and how sounds gain reward value in the brain (Valorie Salimpoor, Rotman, Toronto).

View Recorded Colloquium    (starts at 1:28)

Movement and Music Imagination

View Rebecca Schaffer's talk at SCCN/UCSD on her fMRI research.


University of California Press Room
UC president announces $10 million research awards initiative, first group of recipients

UC San Diego News Center
Team Assembled by UC San Diego’s Makeig Wins $300K Award for Music-and-Science Initiative




UC Music researchers at the UC MERCI retreat at the Marconi Center near Point Reyes.