Professor Nicola Dibben BSc, MA, MEd, PhD, FHEA

Nikki Dibben imageDepartment of Music
The University of Sheffield
Jessop Building
34 Leavygreave Road
S3 7RD

Tel: +44 (0) 114 222 0480

Email :

Working hours: 9:30-15:00


I research and teach in the science and psychology of music, and in popular music studies. My love of music was sparked by performing in musicals at primary school, and my music degrees at City University and the University of Sheffield introduced me to empirical methods to test ideas and make new discoveries.

From an initial focus on how listeners make sense of tonal and early atonal music using laboratory-style experiments, my research broadened to look at emotion, meaning and subjectivity in music listening. My co-authored book Music and Mind in Everyday Life (OUP 2010) provides a critical discussion of psychological approaches to music. I was inspired to start writing about popular music while a lecturer at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1996, by membership of the Critical Musicology forum (an informal association of British scholars interested in non-formalist approaches to music analysis), and a subsequent British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. I started writing about gender, popular music and identity, and, later, on constructions of nature, technology and landscape in popular music. These interests lead to a book on, and work with, Icelandic musician Björk (Björk, Equinox, 2009), and membership of the Sheffield Centre for Nordic Studies.

Many of these topics are examined in my undergraduate modules, ‘Sound and Science’ and ‘Contemporary Popular Music’, and in my postgraduate teaching on our three renowned Masters programmes in Psychology of Music. I like to teach using student-centered empirical projects because students can pursue their particular interests, while also putting ideas and theories to the test through observations of the world. I have enjoyed teaching at other institutions, including a visiting professorship in Music at Karl-Franzens University, Graz, Austria.

I have supervised eight doctoral students to successful completion, and taught over 150 Masters students as part of the teaching team for our innovative programmes in Psychology of Music. I took a Masters degree in education because I wanted to understand more about the theory and practice of teaching, including what could be done about socio-economic barriers to studying Music in the UK.

As co-director of the Music, Mind, Machine research center I pursue applied research in music psychology. A project with Privilege Insurance revealed influences of music on driving and was featured on BBC Breakfast News amongst others. Most recently my research into the music of Icelandic pop artist Björk (Björk, Equinox Press, 2009) lead to work with her on the ground-breaking multi-media Biophilia (2011) – the first music album to be released as a suite of apps. I am also the Departmental Director for Research, which involves supporting colleagues to meet our research goals.

I help develop the disciplines of popular music and music psychology through editing and conference activities: I am co-editor of Empirical Musicology Review, having previously been co-editor of the journal Popular Music, and consulting editor to Musicae Scientiae, Music Perception, and the Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies; I co-organised the 2009 international Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology and am a member of the REF2014 sub-panel for Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts.

Research Interests

  • Cross-modal perception of music
  • Emotional experience of music
  • The influence of background music on human behavior
  • Music listening and subjectivity
  • Contemporary popular music

Current Projects

  • Björk’s Biophilia: a monograph about the first music album designed as an app for mobile devices.
  • Perception of emotion in music: an investigation into acoustic cues to emotion and physiological reactions to music with Dr Eduardo Coutinho (University of Geneva and University of Liverpool).
  • Cross-modal perception of music: a British Academy funded network with Dr Renee Timmers (Sheffield), Prof. Zohar Eitan (Tel Aviv University) and Prof. Roni Granot (Hebrew University Jerusalem) investigating the way musical experience is influenced by and influences other senses.

Selected Research Grants and Awards

  • The Music of Björk (2006): AHRC Research Leave Scheme, £35,816.
  • Music in working environments (2005): AHRC Small Research Grant, £5,000.
  • The influence of socio-economic background on teaching and learning in music in British Higher Education: PALATINE (LTSN subject centre), £3,000
  • Perception of similarity relationships in music, in collaboration with Dr Lamont, Psychology department, Leicester University (1999): AHRB, £4,000.


  • Clarke EF, Dibben N & Pitts S (2009) Music and mind in everyday life. Oxford University Press.
  • Dibben N (2009) Björk. Indiana University Press.

Journal articles


  • Dibben N & Cook N (2001) Musicological approaches to emotion In Juslin PN & Sloboda J (Ed.), Music and emotion (pp. 45-70). Oxford University Press.