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 (or not!) 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 (2009) 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 investigating popular music’s role in the construction and experience of gender 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, 2009), resulting in collaboration on Björk’s ground-breaking app-album Biophilia (2011) – now part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and an educational program run by the Nordic Council.

Applying research in contexts where it can benefit others underpins the Music, Mind, Machine research center which I co-direct. I worked with Privilege Insurance to reveal influences of music on driving which received international media coverage, including features on Sky and BBC Breakfast News.

These research questions and experiences inform my undergraduate modules, ‘Sound and Science’, ‘Music Psychology in Everyday Life’ 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 these mean 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 11 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.

My role as Director of the Humanities Research Institute draws on my experience of interdisciplinary collaboration and involves supporting colleagues in identifying and meeting our research goals as a Faculty. In the wider academic community I help develop the disciplines of popular music and music psychology through numerous editing and conference activities, including co-editing journals Empirical Musicology Review and Popular Music, and was 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 in relation to digitalization, environmentalism and feminism.

Current Projects

  • Björk’s Biophilia: a monograph about the first music album designed as an app for mobile devices.
  • Sounds Icelandic, eds. Tony Mitchell, Nicola Dibben, Þorbjörg Daphne Hall, Árni Heimir Ingólfsson, (Equinox). Edited book on Icelandic music.
  • 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


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