even negative music can trigger positive memories – Palatinate

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By Michelle Leung

Led by Dr Kelly Jakubowski from the Department of Music at Durham University, the researchers launched a series of experiments to study the relationship between music and its ability to evoke memories.

Dr. Jakubowski aims to gain a better systematic understanding of the conditions under which music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) occur. This will allow him and his fellow researchers to broaden knowledge about the interactions between music, emotions and memory. Previous research by Dr. Jakubowski and his team found that music from our teenage years sparks the most memories.

They also found that compared to television programs, music evokes more vivid and emotional memories.

MEAMs can be measured by valence, positive or negative, and arousal activation or deactivation. The results Jakubowski’s team unveiled were a groundbreaking revelation, showing that music consistently evoked positive memories, regardless of emotional valence.

Compared to TV programs, music evokes more vivid and emotional memories

This was achieved through four experiments, where 350 participants played unknown music, of different genres ranging from metal to classical. They were also exposed to daily emotional stimuli, namely environmental sounds, and displayed simple, well-known words. These auditory and visual stimuli were matched according to emotional valence (e.g. happy music with happy sounds and sad music with sad words) and then presented to participants to serve as cues to evoke memories. autobiographical.

The effectiveness of the cues was measured by the number of memories reported and the speed and intentionality of access. Phenomenological characteristics of memories, such as vividness, uniqueness and their social content, were also measured.

Music, as an inherently emotional memory cue, was found to trigger mostly positive valence memories, regardless of emotional valence. For example, sad/angry music (e.g. heavy metal) can evoke just as positive memories as happy songs. However, negative sounds (eg factory machinery vibes) and words (eg madness) would bring back more melancholy memories. However, sounds and words had a higher probability of evoking more memories at a faster rate, and concrete words were more effective cues for evoking memories than abstract words. MEAMs were also more frequently about longer time periods and prolonged/repeated events, rather than specific times.

These findings were rather shocking because we tend to associate sad songs with darker feelings. After all, Spotify wouldn’t suggest a playlist called Sad Beats on a sunny day – that would break the laws of pathetic error, would it? We also associate pieces composed in minor keys, in particular in D minor, with real sadness, where we can finally live our moment of romcom: looking out the window of a taxi, post-heart, a rainy Saturday.

The authors suggest that the positive reminiscences obtained by pieces resembling dirges and requiems could be explained by the positive context in which the music was enjoyed. It could also be due to the triggering of a positive emotional response, which consequently brings back positive memories. Further work will need to be done to determine the temporal order of these responses. Another possible extension is to compare exposure to unfamiliar music versus familiar music.

These findings are of particular interest for therapeutic use, where music, regardless of type or tone, can be used as an effective means to stimulate the retrieval of positive memories in clinical patients, but is not ideal for retrieval. quick many memories. People with post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorders are just a few notable groups that music therapy has helped. The effectiveness of music therapy delivery depends on the continuation of this Durham-led research to produce fascinating insights into the effect of music on the human mind.

Illustration: Verity Laycock

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