Does music unlock memory? – USC Today

By Taaza Facts

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Does music unlock memory? - USC Today

Unveiling lost memories

To investigate how nostalgic music could assist people in recalling memories, Habibi and doctoral candidate Sarah Hennessy tapped experts in machine learning, MRI and psychology to pinpoint what happens in the brain when music unveils a lost memory. To grade how well a participant could recall a memory, the researchers assigned a value to its “vividness,” Habibi says. She describes it as a formula psychologists use to measure how “detailed your perception and sensation of experience are in your description.”

“Vividness measures the amount of detail that goes into your description of a memory,” Habibi says. “If I just ramble on like, ‘I went to the grocery, then did this and that,’ that’s not really remembering your memory, but just the state of it. But if you have details like remembering that the room was dark, that is a more vivid memory.”

The idea has borne two parallel studies from Habibi and Hennessy.

The first had two groups of people, 30 younger and 30 older, who gave the researchers a playlist of songs that evoked powerful memories and emotions. The researchers then used an algorithm developed by Hennessy and colleagues at USC Viterbi to find songs very similar to the ones on the self-selected playlist to serve as a control.

The participants then entered an MRI scanner to scan their brains as they listened to the nostalgic songs, the control songs, and then completely unfamiliar music. Afterward, the participants were asked to describe memories tied to the nostalgic music and the researchers assigned a vividness score. Hennessy says the neuroimaging results were “amazing.”

“When you hear nostalgic music, there’s activity all over your brain, but most notably in the default mode network, which is normally active when we’re daydreaming,” she says. “It is also active when we’re thinking about our own narrative. We also have activity in some visual areas that normally process what you see in front of you. But all these participants had their eyes closed. So, what might be happening is that participants are visualizing what was in front of them during the memory the song evoked.”

Enhancing quality of life

USC researchers hope that understanding how music evokes nostalgia and autobiographical memory in healthy young and older adults will allow future research to investigate how these findings could be applied to older adults with neurodegenerative diseases.

In the second study, a separate group of 150 people of color were played different types of music over 12 weeks. Some weeks, they heard nostalgic music. Other weeks, they listened to familiar music that was not nostalgic. The participants were then asked to describe an autobiographical memory tied to the song or music. Again, the researchers assigned a vividness score to the participants’ responses.

The study’s results, which will form the basis of an upcoming paper, will help reveal whether nostalgic music evokes a more vivid memory. Habibi says understanding why music provokes a response in reward and narrative systems of the brain could be used “as a way of therapeutic interventions for individuals with dementia.”

“This specific pattern of encoding and retrieval of nostalgic music seems to be unique, and the ability of the music to retrieve autobiographical memories is personalized and relative to your story and narrative,” Habibi says. “If nostalgic music can help dementia patients access some memories that are typically not accessible to them, it can enhance the quality of life, even if it’s temporary.

“If a patient is with their children, and they can remember a birthday party associated with a song and details of it, it can bring back the richness and emotional connection of that memory,” she adds.

Taaza Facts

I am a multifaceted content creator with expertise in blogging, Finance, and Cryptocurrency reviews. My creative journey involves weaving captivating stories in blogs, designing aesthetically pleasing and functional websites, and dissecting the nuances of cinema. We are dedicated to sharing our passion and insights with a global audience.

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