Your Memory and Music

This week, we’ll look into music’s effects on memory.200-3

Have you ever heard a song that triggered a memory of a very specific fact or relived a very specific moment? Me too, it’s weird, and I want to talk to you about why it happens. Let’s talk about the impact music has on memory, among other things. This particular post is geared more toward students and the like, but don’t feel discouraged to read if you aren’t one, I’ll be covering a few topics in an attempt to reach a few audiences.

Students listen to music for various reasons: stress relief, background noise during homework, to enhance workouts, bond with others, etc. They also listen to music to help alleviate anxiety and stress when engaged in complex cognitive processing, such as studying for a test or doing homework. Since you listen to music so much, might as well know what music does to help you, right?


According to Arielle S. Dolegui’s article “The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance,” there is ambiguous evidence on the matter of the effects of music on performance. Most studies have shown that music does in fact improve on cognitive performance, but there is research that contradicts these findings. Finally, some sort of discrepancy in these findings! Basically, there are differing opinions on just how helpful music is while attempting to retain information. This is for all you students out there who listen to loud music while you’re reading a book. How! Do! You! Do! It! You guys are the future.

Anyway, some people claim music as distracting while performing cognitive tasks, according to Dolegui. However, she goes on to explain, the plethora of music genres available allow music listeners to find a genre that they can in fact concentrate with, and it’s important to know how those different genres impact performance. There unfortunately are not a ton of studies that examine exactly how the intensity or volume or type of music affects cognitive processing, but I’ll get into some long ago studies that were once conducted that offer up a little information.


I won’t go into crazy detail, but basically there was a study conducted a few decades ago that studied the effects of “sedative” and “stimulative” music, and the science people focused on the influence these different genres had on performance, anxiety, and concentration. The participants of this study chose their favorite genre and were asked to repeat some numbers backwards while they listened to the music. Overall, they did worse when repeating the numbers while listening to the music they liked, and they repeated them best with music. The music the participants chose as preferred was distracting when the participant was engaged in a cognitive task because their attention was on the lyrics, emotions, and memories the music invoked. Basically, if you want to get anything done, you have to Mozart it up so you don’t get distracted. That’s a real thing by the way, and it’s called the Mozart Effect, which is when you listen to Mozart either before performing or while performing a task, which induces short-term memory improvement. It’s also thought to boost IQ, which is why many parents have their children listen to Mozart while in the womb.


I don’t think I’ve delved too much into music’s main points of effect on memory, so I’ll do that now. According to “The Powerful Effects of Music in Memory Care,” music can stimulate the mind, energize the body, nurture the spirit, make a difference in caregiving, and be a bridge to communication. These points can really help a person who can no longer speak in full sentences, maybe due to old age or psychological and other mental issues. Music can really help people get people back to where they once were, it’s just  powerful.

All in all, music is a very powerful memory receptor. It can trigger old memories, but it can also help you retain yours! So next time you’re studying and the stakes aren’t too high, try putting on some different types of background music to see if anything helps you. If what you usually like to listen to is distracting, try going against the norm and listening to something like, oh say Mozart, for instance, and study your results. You may find yourself a new study habit.


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