How Music’s Emotional Waves Drive Memory Formation

Andy Hab
3 min readDec 7, 2023

The emotions in music help create frames that help the brain group and remember better

Music makes you smarter, they say, and playing certain types of music helps you perform better. That’s right isn’t it?

Yeah, there was this phase for playing Mozart decades ago now, after it was found to boost cognitive performance, and worried parents started playing Mozart to their babies hoping to boost their little darlings’ intelligence.

But further research showed that actually any music helps you perform better, through stimulating your mood, and the best is music you like, not a particular style.

But the research recently published looks at music’s emotional swings and how this helps memory formation.

Ok and how did they do that…and does it help memory formation…and how?

That’s a lot of questions. Let me take them one by one.

First off, the research looked at remembering neutral objects such as pictures of fruit on a computer. So not something that is related to a particular emotion such as in a film when this is designed to match a particular scene.

Sets of music were designed for the experiment to evoke different emotions, so not familiar pieces, were then played while doing a task and the neutral objects were shown simultaneously.

What they found is that when the music was played that memory recall of these objects was enhanced — this immediately after and the following day. This means it is not just a short-term effect.

But your “how” question is interesting, and the researchers saw that some emotions stimulated better memory.

Oh wow — which ones?

Don’t get ahead of yourself — first let’s understand how music seemed to help with memory formation.

It seems to do this by creating blocks — grouping together of different stimuli. Music’s emotional ups and downs and also differentiation between music pieces helps the brain to group pieces of information together and this helps recall. This concept of “blocking” is a memory technique in itself — but in this case this was happening without…

--

--

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!