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Description: Quick! Which of these is easier to remember: a song you heard last week and really liked or what you had for lunch last Tuesday? Unless the lunch was particularly good or unique or special it is most likely you would remember the song and if you think about it you agree with that hypothesis, don’t you? Why do you suppose that is? What is it about music or even just arts of songs that we recall years later or that end up as “earworms” running through our heads and being hard to get rid of (if we want to get rid of them)? Think about what you know or have heard about how human memory functions and then come up with some thoughts/hypotheses as to why music might be easier to recall than other things and then read the linked article to see what research suggests.

Source: Why We Remember Music and Forget Everything Else, Nayantara Dutta, Health, Psychology,

Date: April 14, 2022

Image by OmarMedinaFilms from Pixabay

Article Link:

A pioneering memory researcher named Hermann Ebbinghaus working over 100 years ago tested his own memory with different kinds of lists and stated that memory is associationistic (well, he called it associationism theory). By this he meant that memories are connected to events and to previous memories by their meaning. This supports the consistent finding in research and among first year students preparing for their first exam that rote memorization (no associations) does not prepare on for recall when needed on exams etc. nearly as well as developing understanding of the concepts, theories and research that will need to be recalled. Songs, by their nature, are richly connected with situations, emotions and aspects of personal identity. With all those associations it should be of no surprise that music is better remembered that last Tuesday’s lunch! Oh, and search HEARDLE (like Wordle but with music) and give it a try.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why are songs easier to recall than other bits of memory?
  2. What can one learn from memory for songs and music that might help first year students working out how they will prepare for their first midterm exams?
  3. What are some other areas where the research discussed in the linked article might be usefully applied (e.g., with dementia patients perhaps)?

References (Read Further):

Nordström, H., & Laukka, P. (2019). The time course of emotion recognition in speech and music. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 145(5), 3058-3074. Link

Liikkanen, L. A., & Jakubowski, K. (2020). Involuntary musical imagery as a component of ordinary music cognition: A review of empirical evidence. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 27(6), 1195-1217. Link

Salimpoor, V. N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14(2), 257-262. Link

Jakubowski, K., Farrugia, N., Halpern, A. R., Sankarpandi, S. K., & Stewart, L. (2015). The speed of our mental soundtracks: Tracking the tempo of involuntary musical imagery in everyday life. Memory & Cognition, 43(8), 1229-1242. Link

Baird, A., & Samson, S. (2009). Memory for music in Alzheimer’s disease: unforgettable?. Neuropsychology review, 19(1), 85-101. Link

Leggieri, M., Thaut, M. H., Fornazzari, L., Schweizer, T. A., Barfett, J., Munoz, D. G., & Fischer, C. E. (2019). Music intervention approaches for Alzheimer’s disease: A review of the literature. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, 132. Link