How music evokes deep emotions and boosts memory

Have you ever wondered why a particular song can transport you back in time, evoking powerful emotions and vivid memories? A new study published in Nature Communications has shed light on the remarkable connection between music, emotions, and memory, unraveling the mysteries behind our profound reactions to certain melodies.

The study reveals that musicians and composers who skillfully weave emotional events together to tell a story are actually imbuing our memories with a rich temporal structure and a longer sense of time. It seems that the very fabric of music has the power to shape our perception of time, leaving a lasting imprint in our minds.

Dr. McClay, one of the lead researchers, explains, “Intense moments of emotional change and suspense, like the musical phrases in Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ could be remembered as having lasted longer than less emotive experiences of similar length.” In other words, music has the ability to stretch time, making emotionally charged moments feel more substantial and everlasting.

Interestingly, the direction of emotional change also plays a crucial role in memory integration. The research suggests that memories of sequential items feel closer together in time when the shift in emotions is towards positivity. On the contrary, a shift towards more negative emotions tends to separate and expand the mental distance between new memories. This finding highlights the significance of positive emotional experiences in consolidating memories and recalling their order accurately.

The study didn’t stop at exploring the immediate effects of music on memory and emotions. Participants were surveyed the following day, revealing that intense positive emotions led to better memory retention. This suggests that feeling more positive and energized can fuse different elements of an experience together in memory, creating a more comprehensive recollection of the event.

Dr. Sachs, another researcher involved in the study, emphasized the potential of music as an intervention technique. “Most music-based therapies for disorders rely on the fact that listening to music can help patients relax or feel enjoyment, which reduces negative emotional symptoms,” he stated. However, this study offers a new perspective, proposing that emotionally dynamic music might directly treat the memory issues associated with such disorders. By leveraging the power of positive emotions, music could potentially help individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reintegrate traumatic memories and prevent them from spilling over into everyday life.

Dr. Clewett, a researcher specialising in PTSD, expressed optimism about the impact of these findings on individuals with trauma-related disorders. He explained, “We think we can deploy positive emotions, possibly using music, to help people with PTSD put that original memory in a box and reintegrate it, so that negative emotions don’t spill over into everyday life.” This groundbreaking approach could revolutionise the treatment of PTSD by harnessing the profound emotional impact of music to facilitate the healing process.