Psychologists and neuroscientists who rock

Joseph LeDoux

For the continuously updated list of psychologists who rock, please scroll to the bottom of the post.

The review journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences has a reflective essay in-press written by Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist and performer with the Amygdaloids, a band that sings songs about “love and life peppered with insights drawn from research about mind and brain and mental disorders”.

As well as providing interesting background info on the Amygdaloids (they’re currently working on a EP called In Our Minds), LeDoux reflects on why so many scientists are drawn to music, and he talks about the benefits that performing music has brought to his own life and work. “Playing music makes me a healthier, happier person,” he says. “It not only connects me with others in a unique way, it also makes connections in my own mind, drawing up emotions and thoughts I didn’t know I had.”

LeDoux also gives plenty of examples of other scientists who rock:

“Dan Levitin, author of bestselling books, This Is Your Brain On Music and The World in Six Songs, is part of the Diminished Faculties at McGill University. Harvard molecular biologist, Pardis Sabetti, heads Thousand Days. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, has played at benefits with Joe Perry of Arrowsmith. Richard Brown, a philosopher at CUNY, is in the house band of a monthly jam session he organizes (The Amygdaloids played at their Qualia Freak Fest last year). Dave Sulzer, a neuroscientist at Columbia, has an alter ego as David Soldier, the leader of an avant garde music group. A biology-based bluegrass band in New York is called the Southern Blots. There’s a band of shrinks called The Psy- choanalytics. A New Jersey punk band is named the Lonely Ions. The Periodic Table hails from Long Island. Ryan Johnson of Michigan State is in Kinase Moves. The Science Fair is a jazz group from Norway that sings about science.

Andy Revkin, a biologist and New York Times environmental writer is part of the roots group Uncle Wade. Freaks of Nature are a science band from Philadelphia. The Cell Mates are from Yale. Darwin’s Finches are an a capella group from Rockefeller University. MacArthur awardee David Montgomery, a geomorphologist at the University of Washington, plays guitar for Seattle band Big Dirt. Mike Shadlen, also at the University of Washington, fronts the Turing Machines. Chris Code, a psychologist from Exeter in the UK, is in Broken Road. The Society for Neuroscience has a music social every year at its annual meeting, where brain geeks strap on guitars and other instruments. And we shouldn’t overlook that there are some really well known rockers with connections to science. Brian May of Queen has a PhD in astronomy and spends part of his time these days teaching at Imperial College London. Greg Gaffin of Bad Religion has a PhD from Cornell and teaches life science at UCLA. They Might Be Giants does some science-themed songs. We Are Scientists, on the other hand, seem to only be connected to science in name.”

To his list I can add at least four psychologists who rock: Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster plays keyboard and sings backing vocals in a band; Ellen Poliakoff, a psychologist at the University of Manchester is in a band called Stray Light; Rob Hughes, a psychologist at Royal Holloway was in a band called Alien Matter; and psychologist Stephen Kosslyn was in a band when he lived in Cambridge Massachusetts. Do you know of any other psychologists who rock?

-Read The Flip Side: Scientists Who Rock (pdf) by Joseph LeDoux.

(Thanks to Tadhg MacIntyre for the tip-off about this article, and about Kosslyn).

Update. More psychologists/neuroscientists who rock (grabbed from comments or Twitter): Allan McNeill was an original member of Simple Minds and went on to manage 80s pop band Hue and Cry; stats whiz Andy Field drums with Fracture Pattern; Charles Fernyhough plays guitar with the Aimless Mules; Tim Byron plays keyboard with Lazy Susan; Roy Baumeister apparently plays guitar; Matt Wall is a UCL neuroscientist who plays guitar in a pub-rock covers band; Ian Deary sings and plays sax with the Dancing Mice; Katherine Woolf plays in Someone Else’s Wedding; Luke Jones at Manchester University is bassist in pro metal band Soma Dark; Adrian Owen’s band is You Jump First; Max Birchwood plays the sax; Bristol-based band ‘Traps’, features psychologist Paul Redford from UWE; Adrian Wells played keyboards in a band called OC/DC; and post-doctoral psychology researcher Dan Carney plays guitar and sings in the folk/indie/electronic band Dark Captain Light Captain (they’ve had Single of The Week on iTunes US, toured the UK, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, and been played on Radio 1/Radio 2/XFm etc… They’ve also soundtracked a Royal Bank of Scotland advert and had their music used on numerous TV programmes both here and abroad!).

Second update. This post inspired an article in The Psychologist by its editor Dr Jon Sutton.

In ‘For those psychologists about to rock…’, Sutton looks for shortcuts to musical expertise with a little help from his friends. The article and subsequent Twitter discussion has led to more ‘psychologists who rock’ adding their details in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “Psychologists and neuroscientists who rock”

  1. In psychology, Roy Baumeister plays guitar.

    In philosophy,

    Steven Laws plays drums in a jazz-funk band.
    Tom Chatfield plays jazz piano.
    Tom Hodgkinson of the Idler plays Ukelele.

    Will try to think of some others.

  2. Cardiff University have another group- Miller 56. Featuring Petroc Sumner, Bill Macken, Mike Le Pelley… and a few others. they are pretty good !

  3. THE CODES are an all neurointensivst hard rock garage band. We hail from NYC Albany Cleveland & Pittsburgh and will be playing in saratoga NY July 21 We rock with extreme prejudice and are thankful for the healthy effects of the noise ands emotion on our neurotransmitter systems.

  4. Ralph Monley – Australian Organisational Psychologist. Has produced a range of CD's with band 'Points of View'

    The only sample I can see online is a song called 'Safe on the Hudson' which Ralph describes as being “his take on the global financial crisis with a metaphorical hope that like the famous crash landing on the Hudson we will all get out of this alive.”

    Ralph provided a 'musical meditation' for our National Psychology Week Event at Perth Zoo in November 2012.

  5. Thought I should add that a number of philosophers in the NYC area are rockers. Each year in December the New York Consciousness Collective puts on a evening of music that features 8 or so bands of philosophers and scientists. The evening is called the Qualia Fest. In addition to my band, The Amygdaloids, there's another NYU neuorsci grad student group called the Space Clamps. Richard Brown, a philosopher, is the organizer and plays in the Space Clamps and some other groups. Also on the bill are Quiet Karate Reflex, the Whims, and others. The evening usually ends with David Chalmers (famous for “the hard problem” in philosophy) doing his Zombie Blues number. Videos of several of the performances can be seen at There's also a link to a NY Times article on the event on that FB page.

  6. Simon Duff, forensic psychologist at University of Nottingham and Mersey Forensic Psychology Service plays guitar with Mr Buckle and the Fabulous Buckletones

  7. Martin Seager, Consultant Clinical Psychologist but before that a professional drummer and still play drums, keyboards and vocals and have done numerous Charity gigs and live performances over the years – music and psychology are natural bedfellows

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