Music, the great architect of our memories

Music, the great architect of our memories

Every day, memory encodes and stores information that contributes to the construction of our identity. Emotions play a key role in the memorization process, although scientists are still determining to what extent. A new study sheds some light on this mystery through music.

This research, published in the journal Nature Communications, was carried out by three researchers from the American Universities of California (UCLA) and Columbia. It shows how the emotions induced by the fourth art contribute to the creation of distinct and lasting memories.

To arrive at this conclusion, the scientists asked songwriters to create melodies intended to evoke happy, anxious, sad or calm feelings, at different intensities. They then played them to 96 volunteers, all adults. The latter had, at the same time, to imagine stories based on several “neutral” images (that is to say which were not associated with positive or negative emotions) that they saw on a computer.

The academics then distracted the study participants before asking them to find the order in which they had seen the different images. They also surveyed them on their perception of time throughout the experiment, to see if it changed depending on the music they listened to.

This experimental protocol made it possible to highlight the fact that the emotional fluctuations induced by music give a memorable character to fairly banal experiences, which facilitates their memorization by the brain. “The changes in emotion elicited by the music created boundaries between episodes that made it easier for volunteers to remember what they saw and when they saw it.” explained Mason McClay, a psychology doctoral student at UCLA and lead author of the study, in a statement.

Additionally, Mason McClay and his colleagues found that music impacts our sense of time. Indeed, the volunteers had difficulty remembering the exact order in which the images were broadcast when they listened to melodies that were radically different from each other. On the contrary, they had a more accurate perception of time when the music did not play as much on their emotions. Thus, they remembered the order of broadcast of the visuals more easily when they went from a neutral to happy state than when the musical excerpts made them sadder.

While this study has certain limitations, it opens up interesting perspectives on how music could be used for therapeutic purposes, particularly in people suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. For good reason, in stressful situations, the body secretes hormones which can affect communication between brain cells and affect the memorization process. The fourth art could remedy this and, therefore, help people prone to anxiety to nourish and preserve their memory.

Good in his body, good in his head!