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Music and Memory : 5 Awesome New Psychology Studies
Author's page : http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/12/music-and-memory-5-awesome-new-psychology-studies.php
Music and Memory: 5 Awesome New Psychology Studies
Music and memory: it aids language learning, helps injured brains remember, causes widespread brain activation and more…
Music and memory have a tremendously strong link.
Hearing an old song can take you back decades in the blink of an eye.
Psychologists have been fascinated by this connection between music and memory.
Here are five recent psychology studies which demonstrate the intimate link between music and memory.
1. Singing aids language learning
The link between music and memory is so strong that it can help you learn a foreign language.
Research by Ludke et al. (2013) found that people trying to learn Hungarian, a notoriously difficult language, performed much better if they sang the Hungarian phrases rather than just saying them.
The researchers think that the melody may provide an extra cue which helps embed the memory.
2. Music and memory: the injured brain
People who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), such as in a car accident, often have problems with memory.
Music is increasingly being tested as a way to help bring back forgotten autobiographical memories.
A recent study had participants who had suffered severe TBIs listening to number-one songs from their lifetimes to see what memories were evoked (Baird & Sampson, 2013).
The memories brought back were mostly of people or a period of their lives and were broadly similar to those evoked by control participants who did not have a TBI.
Compared with using a standardised interview–the Autobiographical Memory Interview–playing number-one hits to people who’d suffered TBIs was more effective in eliciting memories.
3. Widespread brain activation
One of the reasons the link between music and memory is so powerful is that it activates such large areas of the brain.
A recent brain imaging study found that music activated the auditory, motor and limbic (emotional) regions (Alluri et al., 2013).
The study found that whether their participants were listening to the Beatles or Vivaldi, largely the same areas of the brain were active.
The motor areas process the rhythm, the auditory areas process the sound, while the limbic regions are associated with the emotions (Alluri et al., 2013).
4. Music can take you back two generations
Classic hits can easily take you back to your teens and twenties.
Most people have particularly strong memories of this time in their lives–psychologists have called it the ‘reminiscence bump’.
But, perhaps surprisingly, one study has shown that people also have mini reminiscence bumps for the music their parents listened to, and even for their grandparents’ music (Krumhansl & Zupnick, 2013).
The study’s lead author, Carol Lynne Krumhansl, explained:
“Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading ‘reminiscence bumps’.
“These new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment.”
Another study has shown that we don’t even need to hear the tune to active the link between music and memory–the words are enough (Cady et al., 2008).
For a whole generation, the words “Ice, ice baby”, and for another generation “…living in the gangsta’s paradise” are enough to take them back in time.
5. A unique musical hallucination
The power of the link between music and memory is sometimes frightening.
A recent study from Frontiers in Neurology reported the case of a woman who, one night, suddenly began to hear music playing in her head, like a sort of internal, unstoppable jukebox (Vitorovic & Biller, 2013). The problem continued for months.
When she hummed the songs to her husband, he recognised some of them, but she herself didn’t know what they were or where they came from.
It seemed the songs were so deeply rooted in her memory that she wasn’t consciously aware she knew them. They only came to the surface during these night-time hallucinations.
She was treated with an anti-seizure medication and her symptoms improved a little.
This is the only known case of this kind of musical hallucination.
Author's page : http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/10/how-memory-works-10-things-most-people-get-wrong.php
Memory and Recall: 10 Amazing Facts You Should Know
Human memory and recall works nothing like a computer, but that’s what makes it all the more fascinating to understand and experience.
“If we remembered everything we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing.” ~William James
It’s often said that a person is the sum of their memories. Your memory and recall is what makes you who you are.
Despite this, memory and recall is generally poorly understood, which is why many people say they have ‘bad memories’. That’s partly because the analogies we have to hand—like that of computer memory—are not helpful. Human memory and recall is vastly more complicated and quirky than the memory residing in our laptops, tablets or phones.
Here is my 10-point guide to the psychology of memory and recall (it is based on an excellent review chapter by the distinguished UCLA memory expert, Professor Robert A. Bjork)
1. Memory does not decay
Everyone has experienced the frustration of not being able to recall a fact from memory. It could be someone’s name, the French for ‘town hall’ or where the car is parked.
So it seems obvious that memories decay, like fruit going off. But the research tends not to support this view. Instead many researchers think that in fact memory has a limitless capacity. Everything is stored in there but, without rehearsal, memories become harder to access. This means it’s not the memory that’s ‘going off’ it’s the ability to retrieve it.
But what on earth is the point of a brain that remembers everything but can’t recall most of it? Here’s what:
2. Forgetting helps you learn
The idea that forgetting helps you learn seems counter-intuitive, but think of it this way: imagine if you created a brain that could remember and recall everything. When this amazing brain was trying to remember where it parked the car, it would immediately bring to mind all the car parks it had ever seen, then it would have to sort through the lot.
Obviously the only one that’s of interest is the most recent. And this is generally true of most of our memories. Recent events are usually much more important than ones that happened a long time ago.
To make your super-brain quicker and more useful in the real world you’d have to build in some system for discounting old, useless info. In fact, of course, we all have one of these super-brains with a discounting system: we call it ‘forgetting’.
That’s why forgetting helps you learn: as less relevant information becomes inaccessible, we are naturally left with the information that is most important to our daily survival.
3. ‘Lost’ memories can live again
There’s another side to the fact that memories do not decay. That’s the idea that although memories may become less accessible, they can be revived.
Even things that you have long been unable to recall are still there, waiting to be woken. Experiments have shown that even information that has long become inaccessible can still be revived. Indeed it is then re-learned more quickly than new information.
This is like the fact that you never forget how to ride a bike, but it doesn’t just apply to motor skills, it also applies to memory and recall.
4. Recalling memories alters them
Although it’s a fundamental of memory and recall, the idea that recall alters memories seems intuitively wrong. How can recalling a memory change it?
Well, just by recalling a memory, it becomes stronger in comparison to other memories. Let’s run this through an example. Say you think back to one particular birthday from childhood and you recall getting a Lego spaceship. Each time you recall that fact, the other things you got for your birthday that day become weaker in comparison.
The process of recall, then, is actually actively constructing the past, or at least the parts of your past that you can remember.
This is only the beginning though. False memories can potentially be created by this process of falsely recalling the past. Indeed, psychologists have experimentally implanted false memories.
This raises the fascinating idea that effectively we create ourselves by choosing which memories to recall.
5. Memory is unstable
The fact that the simple act of recall changes memory means that it is relatively unstable. But people tend to think that memory is relatively stable: we forget that we forgot and so we think we won’t forget in the future what we now know.
What this means is that students, in particular, vastly underestimate how much effort will be required to commit material to memory. And they’re not the only ones. This leads to…
6. The foresight bias
Everyone must have experienced this. You have an idea that is so great you think it’s impossible you’ll ever forget it. So you don’t bother writing it down. Within ten minutes you’ve forgotten it and it never comes back.
We see the same thing in the lab. In one study by Koriat and Bjork (2005) people learned pairs of words like ‘light-lamp’, then are asked to estimate how likely it is they’ll be able to answer ‘lamp’ when later given the prompt ‘light’. They are massively over-confident and the reason is this foresight bias. When they get the word ‘light’ later all kinds of other things come to mind like ‘bulb’ or ‘shade’ and the correct answer isn’t nearly as easy to recall as they predicted.
7. When recall is easy, learning is low
We feel clever when we recall something instantly and stupid when it takes ages. But in terms of learning, we should feel the exact reverse. When something comes to mind quickly, i.e. we do no work to recall it, no learning occurs. When we have to work hard to bring it to consciousness, something cool happens: we learn.
When people’s memories are tested, the more work they have done to construct, or re-construct, the target memory, the stronger the memory eventually becomes. This is why proper learning techniques always involve testing, because just staring at the information isn’t good enough: learning needs effortful recall.
8. Learning depends heavily on context
Have you ever noticed that when you learn something in one context, like the classroom, it becomes difficult to recall when that context changes?
This is because learning depends heavily on how and where you do it: it depends on who is there, what is around you and how you learn.
It turns out that in the long-term people learn information best when they are exposed to it in different ways or different contexts. When learning is highly context-dependent, it doesn’t transfer well or stick as well over the years.
I had a friend at University who swore that standing on a chair or up against a wall helped him to revise. I used to laugh at him but there was method in his madness.
9. Memory, reloaded
If you want to learn to play tennis, is it better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or should you mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day?
It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).
The trouble is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve then quickly switch to the forehand, you ‘forget’ how to serve. So you feel things are going worse than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. But, in the long-run this kind of mix-and-match learning works best.
One explanation for why this works is called the ‘reloading hypothesis’. Each time we switch tasks we have to ‘reload’ the memory. This process of reloading strengthens the learning.
10. Learning is under your control
The practical upshot of these facts about memory is that we often underestimate how much control we have over our own memory and recall.
For example, people tend to think that some things are, by their nature, harder to learn, and so they give up. However, techniques like using different contexts, switching between tasks and strenuous reconstruction of memories can all help boost retention.
People also tend to think that the past is fixed and gone; it can’t be changed. But how we recall the past and think about it can be changed. Recalling memories in different ways can help us re-interpret the past and set us off on a different path in the future. For example, studies have shown that people can crowd out painful negative memories by focusing on more positive ones (Levy & Anderson, 2008).
All in all, our memory and recall isn’t as poor as we might imagine. It may not work like a computer, but that’s what makes it all the more fascinating to understand and experience.
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