Music & Our Memories

Posted by on Apr 9, 2018 in ComLead

“Music is a total constant. That’s why we have such a visceral connection to it… Because a song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place, or even a person. No matter what else has changed in you or the world, that one song stays the same, just like that moment.”
– Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

Everyone can relate to that feeling when you are out in public and a song comes on that seems to take you to a different time in your life. Instead of just remembering the words you remember who you were with the first time you heard it, who you thought you were in love with at the time, or who you used to think of when it came on. You recall your old school dances, your mom’s cleaning playlist, or that one trip you went on. There is more to music than just the words and the beat, there is the memories that you attach to it as well.

Studies have shown the incredible ways in which music evokes vivid memories within our minds. You may be familiar with someone saying: “oh this takes me back to…” when a particular song comes on and sends them straight back to whatever memory they have associated with it. Whether happy or sad, we cannot help the way that music transports us to the feelings or experiences that we have connected to it.

These memories are called autobiographical memories because they trigger moments of our lives, often memories that we forget about until the song makes us live them out once again. In addition, there are different kinds of memories that music touches on. Our explicit memories would be conscious such as where you were when you heard it and who was around you. Then our implicit memories are the “unintentional” memories which are outside of our consciousness.

Music Therapy is a common practice used to heal patients with traumatic brain injuries who suffer from damage to their memory. By playing songs that would have been popular at different points in the patient’s life, therapists can evoke certain memories or emotions that the patient was unable to recall prior. Similarly, in patients who suffer from depression, music can be used to recall different parts of the patient’s life that may have been more positive than they think which can help them learn to heal.

Music does so much more than just get into our heads and provide us entertainment. It touches the heart and the mind in ways that other senses are not always able to. In a second you could go from simply driving with the radio on to reliving moments of your adolescence with some of the people who shaped you all because the right song happened to come on and take you there.

So with that said, what songs trigger the most vivid memories for you?

Resources: Psychology Today – Why Do The Songs From Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories?

BBC – Why Does Music Evoke Memories?

Devon Bradley, M.S. Communication & Leadership ’19

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