Dr. Clara James
Privat Docent

Clara 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. Didier 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 a SNSF project (no. 125050; 2009-2014). Together with her co-authors 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.


A recent project (2016-2019) “Orchestra in class”, funded by an anonymous sponsor with the support of CARIGEST, followed school children over the last two years of primary school to evaluate whether their cognitive and sensorimotor development could be bolstered by intensive musical practice within the school curriculum. This study is the first long-term RCT comparing directly practicing complex instruments to sensitization to music (active listening, theory, and some moderate music practice), over two years, in a class setting, in initially non-musician children with varying backgrounds, within the regular school curriculum, using a large psychometric battery.

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. A publication is submitted, but a preprint can be consulted (bioRxiv 829077; doi:


In November 2017 Clara James obtained a Lead agency project together with Prof. Eckart 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. Matthias Kliegel, cognitive aging expert from the Psychology Department of University of Geneva, co-supervises the project, and Prof. Dimitri Van De Ville is FNS partner, his computational imaging lab at Campus Biotech at the EPFL and the University of Geneva assists the team in using the latest methodological tools to analyze multivariate brain and behavior data. The project investigates the potential positive impact of intensive musical training on brain aging and cognitive decline.


Recently (November 2019) Prof. James received a grant from Alzheimer Suisse for an RCT pilot project on elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment aiming to promote recovery through music practice as compared to soft gymnastics, together with Dr. Damien Marie. Project partners of this project are Prof. Giovanni Frisoni (HUG), Prof. Matthias Kliegel and Prof. Isabelle Mili of the FPSE.


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


Research interests

           - Neuronal substrates at the root of perceptive, cognitive and motor functioning

            - Experience-driven brain and behavioral plasticity following musical activity over the lifespan

            - Links between general and musical cognition and their neuronal substrates

            - Cognitive and brain features of musicians with absolute pitch

            - Developing musical training regimens that:

o    Countervail age-induced cognitive and sensorimotor decline and brain degeneration

o    Boost cognitive, sensorimotor and associated brain development in normally developing and high-risk children