World Mental Healthcare Association

Songs Stuck In Your Head Helps To Form Lasting Memories, New Study Reports

Brain News: Earworms (having a song stuck in your head) play an important role in helping memories form, not only for the song, but also related life events like hanging out with friends.

Researchers from UC Davis worked with 25 to 31 different people (all UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students) in each of three experiments, over three different days, spaced weeks apart. Participants first listened to unfamiliar music, and then, a week later, listened to the music again, this time paired with likewise unfamiliar movie clips. In one instance, movies were played without music. None of the research subjects had formal music training.

The research team asked the participants to remember as many details as they could from each movie as the song played, if they could recollect associated tunes, and how often they experienced each of the tunes as an earworm.

Researchers found that more often a song played in a person’s head, the more accurate the memory for the tune and more details the person remembered from the specific section of the movie with which the tune was paired.

“Our paper shows that even if you are playing that song in your mind and not pulling up details of memories explicitly, that is still going to help solidify those memories,” said Petr Janata, UC Davis professor of psychology and co-author on a new study.

So, whenever a song is stuck in your head and you feel like a nuisance, remember it’s a naturally occurring memory process that helps preserve recent experiences in long-term memory.

The study findings published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology have important implications for development of non pharmaceutical, music-based interventions to help people suffering from memory problems like dementia so that they can better remember life events, people and daily activities.

To Know More You May Refer To:

Kubit, B. M., & Janata, P. (2021). Spontaneous mental replay of music improves memory for incidentally associated event knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001050

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