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That Song Stuck in Your Head is Helping the Brain With Long-Term Memory


If you’ve watched TV since the 1990s, the comedy theme I’ll be there for you It has probably gotten stuck in your head at one point or another.

New research from UC Davis suggests that these experiences are more than a passing annoyance – they play an important role in helping memories form, not just for the song, but for life-related events as well, like hanging out with friends or watching other people hang out with their friends. on the 90s tv show, Friends.

“Scientists have known for some time that music evokes autobiographical memories and that these are some of the emotional experiences with music that people most appreciate,” said Petr Janata, a UC Davis professor of psychology and co-author of a new study.

“What has not been understood to date is how those memories are formed in the first place and how they become so long-lasting, so that just hearing a little bit of a song can trigger a vivid memory,” said Janata.

The document, “The spontaneous mental reproduction of music improves memory for the knowledge of incidentally associated events”, was published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

This new research offers initial insight into these mechanisms, and surprisingly finds that songs that get stuck in the head help that process of strengthening memories as they form, the authors said.

So this is the first research to link two of the most common phenomena people experience with music: earworms (having a song in your head) and the memory evoked by music.

For their latest study, the researchers worked with 25 to 31 different people in each of the three experiments, over three different days, separated by weeks.

The subjects first listened to unfamiliar music and then a week later, they listened to the music again, this time combined with equally unfamiliar movie clips. In one case, movies were played without music.

The research subjects, all UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students, were then asked to recall as many details as they could from each film as the music played. They were also asked about their memory of the associated melodies and how often they experienced each of the melodies as a worm. None of them had formal musical training.

The more the melody is played, the more accurate the memory.

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The results: the more often a melody was played in a person’s head, the more accurate the melody’s memory became and, critically, the more detail the person recalled from the specific section of the film that the melody was paired with. .

With just a week between when they saw the movie and when they were asked to recall as many details from the movie as they could while listening to the movie’s soundtrack, the effect of repeatedly experiencing a melody from the soundtrack like a worm resulted. up close -Perfect retention of film details.

The memories of these people, in fact, were as good as when they first saw the movie. Furthermore, most of the subjects were able to report what they were normally doing when the earworms occurred, and none of them mentioned the associated movies that occurred to them at the time.

“Our article shows that even if you’re playing that song in your mind and not explicitly pulling details out of the memories, it will help solidify those memories,” Janata said.

“We normally think of pinworms as a random annoyance outside of our control, but our results show that pinworms are a natural memory process that helps preserve recent experiences in long-term memory,” Kubit said.

RELATED: 8 in 10 Americans say positive memories have been a ‘lifesaver’ during the pandemic

Future help for memory loss?

The authors said they hope the research, which is ongoing, will eventually lead to the development of non-pharmaceutical, music-based interventions to help people suffering from dementia and other neurological disorders better remember events, people and tasks. daily.

Fountain: University of California – Davis

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