Music is one of the most powerful forms of entertainment… but is it just entertainment? Does it have any real value beyond creating a fun, upbeat atmosphere? Our emotions have a pretty noticeable effect on how well we can (or can’t) remember certain people, places, and events.
We all know that music can alter, elevate, or (in the worst case) ruin our mood. So, if music affects our emotions and emotions affect our memory – does music improve memory? Keep reading to find out.
Does Music Improve Memory? – Listen, Study, Repeat
The short answer is yes, the evidence points towards this being true. It’s more complex than a simple yes or no answer, so you’ll have to keep reading to see how it improves memory.
You may have heard of something called the “Mozart Effect“. Basically, the term comes from research that has shown that listening to Mozart improves short term memory. Sometimes it gets interpreted as suggesting that the act of listening to Mozart alone, makes you smarter.
Classical Music Makes You Smarter?
Although that’s not technically true, there have been studies that have shown how listening to classical music during childhood can have a positive effect. (I hate to break it to you but listening to classical music won’t boost your IQ, sorry.) But how does it affect memory?
Since your memory is innately intertwined with emotion, it seems to make sense that you could draw a direct connection between the two. You might be wondering, “Do I have to listen to classical music to get a positive effect, or can I listen to other styles to help remember things?”. Let’s take a closer look at how the effect may vary by genre.
Does The Genre You Listen To Make A Difference?
Based on the current research, the evidence points towards the genre as being less important than you might think. The dopamine seems to be the most important factor. When we listen to music that we love our brain releases dopamine, which makes us feel good.
When we’re in an elevated mood and we “feel good”, it’s easier to remember things that we might not have otherwise. Let’s say you’re having a hard time studying for an upcoming exam. Someone suggests you listen to some Beethoven because they’ve “heard that it makes you smarter”. You might be a fan of classical music but if you’re not this next part is for you.
If we hate the sound of classical music and try using it to help study for a test or other mental task – it might actually hurt rather than help memory. As the audio waves stream into your ear a negative reaction occurs. Instead of being hyper-focused on the material you’re studying – you’re hyper-focused on disliking the music. This, in turn, becomes a distraction rather than an aid.
The genre you choose will definitely have an effect on your focus but it’s not the sole factor. Rather than classical music being the focal point that determines whether or not you’ll be better at retaining memories, the release of dopamine seems to be much more important.
Do Some Trial and Error
If all else fails, the best way to find which style of music works best for you is to try a few different kinds. Once you start seeing positive results, you know what songs to add to your “Study Playlist” (and which ones to leave out). Self experimentation might not be the best option for things like treating strep throat or diagnosing yourself with cancer but a little music never hurt anyone.
Listening to a laid back EDM playlist might help you retain information when your friend might fare better listening to fast, loud drumming. (Not even one-size-fits-all hats actually fit everyone.)
The Relationship Between Music and Dopamine
Listening to music you enjoy while actually performing a mental task can be helpful for retaining information but it’s not the only way to see positive results.
In the study we linked to below, it shows that the music itself isn’t a “miracle memory-improving-drug”. Instead, the natural release of dopamine is the key. This study shows that music can be extremely helpful for improving cognitive function in people after experiencing a middle cerebral artery stroke. The middle cerebral artery is one of 3 main veins that takes blood to the part of your brain that processes/controls a large part of your brain’s overall function. (I’m sure you can imagine how important it is for everyday function.)
Verbal Memory Benefit – From Everyday Listening
The study also demonstrates that healthy people who listen to their favorite music on a daily basis get more verbal memory benefit than those who don’t. If you’re a melomaniac and a day doesn’t go by without you jamming out to your favorite songs, by all means keep doing that!
If you’re not someone who streamlines music into your brain on a daily basis, maybe try listening to 10-15 minutes when you wake up in the morning. Once you get into the habit of making it a part of your routine, it’ll be easier to “get in the zone” and use it as an aid in remembering things.
When Should I Listen To Music To Retain More Information?
We’ve come to the conclusion that you should use music when you’re studying for school, researching information you don’t want to forget, and any other time that you need help retaining information. (On top of any regular listening you already do, of course.)
Effects On Memory Loss From Dementia
Now you know some of the positive benefits for healthy people, but can it also help with memory-related brain diseases? By no means am I an expert in this field but after some diligent research these were the findings of how listening to music can affect dementia/Alzheimer’s-related memory loss. Since dementia is related to a deficient supply of dopamine it makes sense that adding a supply of the missing chemical would have positive effects.
Here are some of the studied benefits for helping with Dementia-related memory loss:
- Gives a surge of dopamine to a dopamine-deficient brain
- Provides the ability to recall previously forgotten aspects of their identity
- Brings excitement and visible animation
- Unlocks past memories
- Improves overall quality of life
- Can (in certain cases) allow for a lowering of the antipsychotic medication dosage
Non-profit organizations like Music & Memory have music-specific rehabilitation programs that are used to ease the suffering of patients with dementia. They produced a documentary released in 2014 called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory. If you’d like to get further information on the relationship between the two, click the image below and you can stream it for free on Amazon Prime.
Did The Results Surprise You?
Will you use music the next time you need to do some studying for an upcoming final? Did the results surprise you or confirm your suspicion? Do you already listen to a special playlist when you need to cram for a tough test?
When have you used audio waves as an aid for retaining information? You might be an audiophile or everyday listener already so this might be more of a confirmation than surprise. It’s always good to have the facts to back up your claim and now you have them.
The next time someone questions your decision you can give them a solid explanation with real-life evidence supporting your stance. If you don’t want to do the explaining yourself, just send them a link to this post and they can see for themselves. You might’ve heard the saying “Whistle while you work” – we prefer “Listen while you work”. (By all means do both if that’s your cup of tea.)
If you enjoyed this quick read, share it on your Twitter or Facebook and spread the knowledge. You’re definitely not the only person to ask “Does music improve memory?” and plenty of other people out there would also benefit from taking a look!
Do you want to learn about some of the other therapeutic uses for music? Take a look at this post about the relationship between Music and Empathy. You might also enjoy reading about Music Addiction Disorder and whether or not it’s real or fake.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below, I look forward to hearing some of your thoughts! Thanks for stopping by, I hope you found the answer to your question and hope to see you here again!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.