Music Evokes Autobiographical
Memories More Vivid than Visuals.

Full version Podcast and Vlog Episode

Amy Belfi-Music and The Brain-The neuroscience behind how and why music influences our emotions feelings and behaviors.png

Watch & Listen

Support by listening, subscribing and sponsoring!

Youtube Video Transcription

Jasmine Moradi:
Very fascinating! And as you’re explaining it, music is a strong intertwine with our memories and emotions, and you’ve spoken a lot about this, but for example hearing a song from our past can transport us back in time triggering the sights sounds and feelings of an event.  I’m pretty blessed because I understand seven languages, and it gives me the ability to connect deeply with all the memories emotions and association I have with each culture and language. And you’ve also studied the association between music and vivid autobiographical memory. Then teach us about this subject.
 
Amy Belfi:
Yeah, so this is kind of another area that I’ve looked at. I just came up with this I remember like vividly driving with some of my friends in the car and i don’t remember which song it was but we were just listening to music and we were talking about music and talking about like how kind of crazy it is that you can hear a song and it just like transports you back to a time. Where it brings back these very vivid memories and I at that moment was like I wonder if anyone studied that? I was in grad school at the time, so I looked into the literature on it and there were a handful of papers looking at this, but no one had really compared music to other types of memory cues, so I think a lot of people have an intuition that music is better or this particularly good way to cue memories. But until I had done my original study no one had really compared music to other types of sensory cues so in my initial study I just wanted to see, “Are memories cue by music different, than memories by other things? 
 
So in this study what we did was we compared memories evoked by music to memories evoked by pictures of famous people. The same famous people we used in the previous study. So what we did in this test we had participants come into the lab. They listened, we played 30 different pieces of music, then the question with all these studies is “How do you choose the music?”. This is very idiosyncratic on an individual basis we use the method that was developed by Petr Janata, who’s at UC Davis, and he was the person who really kind of pioneered these this topic. He had published a couple papers on this when I had started my research on it. So what this method of selecting songs is, we have a bunch of tracks from the Billboard Top Hot 100 year-end charts, and we would randomly select songs based on the participants age. So there’s a finding in memory research called a reminiscence bump which is this period of life that you have if asked to provide autobiographical memories where you tend to provide memories from this period which is like late adolescence early adulthood. So, we picked songs from that period of life. So, someone my age like early 30s would hear songs from like you know like early 2000s to mid 2010s or so.  So like you the whole point of this is picking the songs that people are highly likely to know. You know there’s a lot of research showing that people develop their musical tastes around that period of life too.
 
So, we played them a bunch of these songs and after each song we ask them like “Did that trigger a memory for you? and if so please describe the memory in as much detail as you can”. We audio recorded all the memory descriptions, and we did the same thing with a bunch of pictures of celebrities. So like I would see pictures of people who are famous in like the early 2000s to the late 2010s like pictures of Lady Gaga or whoever. I don’t know just like famous celebrities from that time. And the same thing they’d show the celebrity, and we’d ask them “Does this trigger a memory for you if so please describe the memory?”. So then what we wanted to do is see are these memories different between the two conditions and what we did was we looked at these you know we had these long memory descriptions. You know something like hearing that song reminded me of driving in the car with my friends in high school, it was like a hot summer night, and the windows were down and I was sticking my hand out the window and the wind blowing on it.  So we would take that, and then we’d, we’d break it down into the component parts. We’d say okay the time was in high school, the location was in a car. The some of the perceptual things were feeling the air blowing on me and feeling the hot weather, and so we categorize each of those details as either being relevant to the memory or not relevant to the memory. And then we’d see, okay how much of this description that you gave me actually contains information that’s relevant to the memory. And so what we found was that the memories cubed by music tended to be more amusing they were relevant, but we would say like episodically detailed or episodically rich. It has more details about the actual episode or event the music evoke memories tended to have a greater proportion of these types of details whereas the face memories tend to be like, “Oh I remember going to see this movie on a date and Clint Eastwood was in the movie and Clint Eastwood also did this movie, this woman.  So they would tend to focus more on the person and describing their knowledge of the person rather than an episode of their life, so it seems to be the case that the music evoke memories tend to be very episodic whereas the face evoked memories tended to be more just factual information about the celebrities themselves.
 
Jasmine Moradi:
The song is more emotional right it and if you see in a picture you mostly like as you say you’re connecting it with that person. But  what is it about music and that area of  youth that makes it sticky?
 
Amy Belfi:
That’s a  good question.  Like I said, this was an initial study which is just looking at if the memories different. And now I’m interested in looking more at like well how does music trigger their memories? Why are these memories more detailed than at least the memories? Both by the images of faces. I don’t really have an explanation, yet part of me thinks that music is kind of a contextual cue and that it’s like in the background while we’re doing a lot of activities and while we’re you know going to parties and our wedding and like our prom and these kinds of big events there’s music there. And I think that might be one sometimes people criticize, and they say well that’s the faces is a bad comparison or TV shows would be a bad comparison because music is in the background while you’re doing things whereas these other things are just the focus.
 
So you’re focusing on the image of the movie, and it’s not in the background I’m like well, well maybe that’s something that actually makes music unique relative to other stimuli is that it’s like always in the background. So I think in some ways’ music might be a good cue to kind of like put us back in that experience that we had originally because it was actually part of that exact experience. So, I think maybe that’s one of the explanations that music is a good cue to kind of bring us back to that original context that we were in when we had, we’re doing that event.