Dr. Clara James
Privat Docent at the FPSE UNIGE

Full Professor UAS at the Geneva School of Health Sciences, HES-SO

CV and more information:


Clara E. James is Full Professor UAS and Head of Applied Research and Development at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland - School of Health Sciences Geneva, and Privat Docent at the Psychology Department (FPSE) of the University of Geneva within the Laboratory of Prof. D. Grandjean. In 2019 she funded the GEMMI lab: Geneva Musical Minds Lab that is part of the Geneva University Neurocenter.

After a career as a professional musician (violinist), she obtained BSc & MSc degrees in cognitive and experimental Psychology and finally a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Geneva in 2008.

She was principal investigator of SNSF project no. 125050 (2009-2014). Together with her co-investigators (Prof. C.-A. Hauert (FPSE), Prof. D. Van De Ville (EPFL), Prof. F. Lazeyras (FacMed UNIGE) & Dr. M. Oechslin (FPSE)) she could show progressive changes in cognitive behavior, brain functioning (EEG, fMRI), and brain structure (for gray (VBM) and white matter (DTI)) as a function of musical training intensity.

Together with Prof. M. Kliegel (FPSE), she led a research project (2016-2019) on the Orchestra in Class program in Geneva, developed by the Geneva music school “l’Accademia d’Archi”, funded by an anonymous sponsor found with the support of CARIGEST. The study followed schoolchildren over the last two years of primary school to evaluate whether their cognitive and sensorimotor development could be bolstered by intensive musical practice on string instruments as compared to traditional sensitization to music, both within the regular school curriculum. Enhanced development for music processing, working memory, attention, processing speed, matrix reasoning, sensorimotor hand function and bimanual coordination manifested in the intervention group compared to the control group.

In November 2017 C.E. James obtained a Lead agency project together with Prof. E. Altenmüller (Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, Germany), of which she leads the Swiss part, financed by the SNSF (no.170410; 2018-2021). Prof. M. Kliegel co-supervises the project, and Prof. D. Van De Ville is scientific partner. The project investigates the potential positive impact of intensive musical training on brain aging and cognitive decline as compared to musical culture lessons in healthy elderly. The project closed officially in September 2021 and several publications came out, showing multiple benefits following the musical interventions, particularly for the piano group. However, the publishing process is ongoing.

C.E. James also received mutual grants from Alzheimer Suisse (2019) and the Gebauer Foundation (2020) for an RCT on elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment aiming to promote recovery through music practice as compared to psychomotor training (2020-2022). Control groups consist of healthy controls matched for age, gender and education level. Collaborators are Dr. D. Marie, co-investigator, and project partners Prof. G. Frisoni (HUG, Geneva University Hospitals), Dr. A. Brioschi Guevara (CHUV, Lausanne University Hospital), Prof. M. Kliegel and Prof. I. Mili (FPSE UNIGE) as well as Prof. C. Junker Tschopp from the Haute école de travail social de Genève HES-SO (Psychomotor Department). The project was delayed by COVID and data collection will carry on till 31.03.2023.

Clara E. James teaches "Neuropsychology of Music" at the Psychology Department of the University of Geneva (Master’s level).

Research interests: 1) Neuronal substrates at the root of perceptive, cognitive, and motor functioning; 2) Experience-driven brain and behavioral plasticity following musical, artistic, and physical activity over the lifespan; 3) Links between general and musical cognition and their neuronal substrates; 4) Cognitive and brain features of musicians with absolute pitch; 5) Developing musical, artistic and physical training regimens that: a) Countervail age-induced cognitive and sensorimotor decline and brain degeneration & b) Boost cognitive, sensorimotor, and associated brain development in normally developing and high-risk children