A woman wearing headphonesEveryone can think of a song that, when they hear it, makes memories flood back to them. They might remember a lost love, family, or a particular time in their lives. Researchers Amee Baird and Séverine Samson conducted a study to test how this powerful emotional connection to music could be used to help people with acquired brain injuries (ABIs) to remember personal memories. They found that music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) were better at inducing recall than the standard battery of verbal questions. This research may be important in understanding the complex relationship between music, emotions, and memory.

Billboard Hot 100, picking songs popular from the years of the patient’s life. While listening to the songs, the patients recorded how familiar they were with the tracks, whether they liked it, and any memories the songs invoked.

Both the ABI patients and the controls demonstrated a similar frequency of MEAMs (38%-71% for the ABI group, compared to 48%-71%). Most of the memories were of people, a person, or a life period and, in general, the memories were positive. The memory-evoking songs were rated more positively and more familiar than other songs. Only one of the ABI patients had no MEAMs.

Overall, they found that music was a more efficient method of eliciting memories from all life periods than verbal interviews.

The research team hopes to see more work with MEAMs using larger groups of people, both with and without brain injuries, in order to learn more about how the brain structures memory and emotion.

“The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception,” conclude the authors.

This research is published in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

For examples of how iLs works with brain injury, please visit our case studies page.

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