Research Theme Fellow: Health and Wellbeing

Dr Jennifer MacRitchie

School of Humanities and Communication Arts
The MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development

Dr Jennifer MacRitchie was appointed as a Senior Research Fellow for Health and Wellbeing at Western Sydney University in 2016. Jennifer’s main interested is focused around how music can be used to sustain mental and physical abilities in later life. Jennifer joined the University in 2014 and is a school-based member of the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development.

Jennifer completed her PhD in engineering, designing multi-modal capture systems to examine fine motor movements of musicians, at the Science and Music Research Group, University of Glasgow (UK). Prior to moving to Australia, Jennifer held a postdoctoral position at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. She currently serves as Associate Editor of Frontiers in Psychology (Performance Science), and is on the editorial board of Musicae Scientiae.

Jennifer’s research focuses on the acquisition and development of motor skills in piano performance. Her studies have spanned various skill levels and demographics, from novices to experts, and from childhood learners to those rediscovering music in retirement.

Jennifer is currently researching ways to optimise the health applications of music programs for the elderly, including those with cognitive and/or motor impairments. “For example, one of our recent projects has been looking at older adults learning to play the keyboard,” she explains. “We’re trying to track how musical learning can help them sustain cognitive and fine motor skills throughout ageing, as well as other benefits to mood, quality of life, and providing a sense of achievement.”

Jennifer is also looking at the possibilities for designing new instruments using digital technology and mobile devices. Where traditional instruments such as the piano can be quite complicated, customised interfaces have the potential to reduce the barriers to musical activity. “Today you are much more likely to find an iPad somewhere than a piano. We have so much technology readily available,” says Jennifer. “If we could make music more accessible by reducing how complex that activity is; for example through the use of iPad apps or user-optimised interfaces; then we could deliver musical instrument playing as an intervention to so many more people.”

Jennifer is working to promote cross-disciplinary health research based upon specific problems rather than academic disciplines. “Health and wellbeing is never isolated in real life, so to have different perspectives collaborating together on research can help us to really untangle some of these more complex issues,” Jennifer says. “It’s not an easy task by any means, but it’s something I think we need to keep pushing towards.”

Within the University, Jennifer also supervises several PhD students, and oversees the Cognitive Science Research and Applications unit for the Master of Research.