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Doctoral dissertation project of Runa Ya

Quelle: "Die zeichnenden Hände" von M.C. Escher, 1948, Originalgröße: 28,2 × 33,2 cm, Wilhelm Fabry Museum

Rhythmic Entrainment and Music Memory

Individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia often exhibit intact memory for familiar songs despite the progressive decline in other cognitive domains. This phenomenon underscores the complexity and multifaceted nature of memory. In my PhD project, I investigate human memory from a functional perspective, with a specific focus on music memory and its relationship to rhythmic entrainment – the ability to become synchronized. I propose the multi-affordances thesis, which posits that music offers multiple, often simultaneous possibilities or resources of engagement that are realized through rhythmic entrainment. These affordances, facilitated by entrainment, are intricately linked to the biological, psychological, and socio-affective functions of human memory. In the process of remembering, multi-affordances become multi-triggerings, providing multiple cues simultaneously for recall. Through exploring the role of rhythmic entrainment in the formation of musical memory, my research aims to deepen our understanding of human memory in terms of its functions. Moreover, it seeks to lay down a theoretical foundation for the development of evidence-based, integrated, and person-centered music interventions tailored for individuals with memory impairment, such as Alzheimer’s dementia.



Runa Ya is a doctoral researcher in Cognitive Musicology at the University of Cologne (Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Uwe Seifert). Her research interests encompass memory and music, rhythmic entrainment, music and neurodegeneration, and the intersection of music and medicine.

Runa holds a BA in Flute Performance from Minzu University of China (Class Wu-Rigen) and an MA in Musicology from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. Jin Hyun Kim & Dr. Rie Asano). As a classically trained musician, Runa has performed with various ensembles in both China and Germany. Her repertoire encompasses a diverse range of musical genres, spanning from classical music of the Western tradition to traditional Chinese operas and German folk music. As a musicologist, she has worked as an intern and student research assistant in several interdisciplinary research projects, including “Social Interaction through Sound Feedback – Sentire” (funded by BMBF), “Auditory Temporality: How time is structured in – and through – music” (funded by Einstein Stiftung Berlin), and “Digital Societal Health through Communicative Interaction” (funded by Berlin University Alliance).

Alongside her academic pursuits, Runa is deeply committed to applying the power of music and arts in real-world settings. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she has volunteered to assist individuals with disabilities in art classes and provided accompaniment for a dementia choir in Berlin. In December 2023 Runa completed an internship for music therapy (supervised by Annika Firley) at the Clinic for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Gerontopsychiatry at the University Hospital Bonn. Currently, she works part-time as a music therapist with neurologic patients at a clinic for neurorehabilitation in Cologne, where she continues her dedication to the recovery and well-being of her patients through group singing sessions.

Contact: rya[at]uni-koeln.de



WS22/23 Blockseminar: Social Cognitive Neuroscience of Music: Introduction to Theoretical and Empirical Approaches [in German, together with Dr. Rie Asano]


Talks and poster presentations

08/2023: Exploring Rhythmic/Musical Entrainment in People with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Oral presentation at the international Workshop Interdisciplinary Workshop on Entrainment at RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion of University of Oslo, Norway [remote]

09/2022: Music-Readiness and Entrainment: On the Embodied and Interactive Origin of the Human Music Capacity. Blitz talk and poster presentation at the workshop “Biology-Culture Relationship in the Evolution of Language and Music” of the international Conference “Joint Conference on Language Evolution” in Kanazawa [remote, together with Nils-Benjamin Hahn]

7/2018: Are Intentions Necessary for Constituting the Social Dimension of Musical ‘Meaning’? Poster presentation at the workshop “Musical ‘Meaning’, Social Interaction, and Teleofunctionalism” at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin [together with Till Schwabenbauer]

09/2017: Rhythmic Synchronization in the Context of Human-Robot Interaction. Poster presentation at the KOSMOS Workshop “Emerging Synchronization in Music Cognition ” at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin [together with Elsa L. Griffin]



Ya, Runa (2023). Appeal for An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Rhythmic/Musical Entrainment in People with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) [Talk abstract]. Interdisciplinary Workshop on Entrainment, RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion, University of Oslo, Norway. https://www.uio.no/ritmo/english/news-and-events/events/workshops/2023/entrainment-workshop/abstract-book.pdf

Ya, Runa & Nils-Benjamin Hahn (2022). Music-Readiness and Entrainment: On the Embodied and Interactive Origins of the Human Music Capacity [Talk abstract]. Workshop “Biology-Culture Relationships in the Evolution of Language and Music” of the Joint Conference on Language Evolution, Kanazawa, Japan & Online https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VUA8429bUraBvaIXxR8nQ5KukWw6ggq5/view

Rie Asano, Pia Bornus, Justin T. Craft, Sarah Dolscheid, Sarah E. M. Faber, Viviana Haase, Marvin Heimerich, Radha Kopparti, Marit Lobben, Ayumi M. Osawa, Kendra Oudyk, Patrick C. Trettenbrein, Timo Varelmann, Simon Wehrle, Runa Ya, Martine Grice, Kai Vogeley (2018). Spring School on Language, Music, and Cognition: Organizing Events in Time. In: Music & Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/2059204318798831


Co-organization of conferences/workshops/lecture series

Cologne Lectures in New Medical Humanities, University of  Cologne 23/24 [lecture series]

a.r.t.e.s. forum 2023 | Challenging Surrounding, University of Cologne,  Juli 6 2023

Joint Conference on Language Evolution, Kanazawa, Japan & Online, September 5-8 2022

Das Klangliche am Musikalischen – Das Musikalische am Klanglichen, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin & Einstein Center Chronoi, Berlin, December 9-10, 2019



ICH Good Clinical Practice E6 (R2)

The Global Health Network

Health Literacy Training for HRPP & IRB Members & Staff

The MRCT Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard


Scientific Societies

Alzheimer’s Association International Society to Advance Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment (ISTAART)

International Society for Arts and Medicine (ISfAM)