Almost everyone connects a song or music to certain memories of the heart. Listening to a piece of music can take our mind back in time to long forgotten events, people or places. This type of experience is known as “music-evoked autobiographical memory,” a phenomenon that often presents itself as a completely involuntary memory. Why music has the power to evoke such vivid memories is the subject of some recent research. “Firstly – explains to The Conversation Kelly Jakubowski, researcher and assistant professor in Music Psychology at the University of Durham (UK) – music tends to accompany many distinctive life events, such as dances, graduations, weddings and funerals, therefore it can play an important role in reconnecting us with these moments. Music, by the way, also captures our attention, because of the way it affects our minds, our bodies and our emotions”.
The emotional sounds
Music can function as an effective cue to remember an event years later. In research published in 2022 in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, Jakubowski and music cognition professor Tuomas Eerola found that the emotional nature of a piece of music serves as a memory cue. “We compared the music with other emotional memory cues that had been assessed by a large group of participants to convey the same emotional expression as the musical excerpts we used,” Jakubowski points out. This included comparing the music to ’emotional sounds’ such as nature and factory noises and ’emotional words’, such as ‘money’ and ‘tornado’”. The study showed that emotional sounds, like words, arouse memories, but above all that music is able to evoke positive memories in a much more consistent way than words.