Music’s Emotional Roller Coaster Improves Memory Training

Summary: Researchers reveal how fluctuating emotions elicited by music help shape distinct and lasting memories.

Using music to manipulate volunteers’ emotions during tasks, they found that emotional changes created boundaries between memories, making them easier to remember.

This discovery has therapeutic potential for conditions like PTSD and depression. The power of music to evoke emotions can improve memory organization, with positive emotions facilitating memory integration.

This research offers insight into how emotionally dynamic music can directly treat memory problems, benefiting people suffering from disorders like PTSD.


  1. The emotional impact of music helps form separate, memorable memories by creating boundaries between episodes.
  2. The back-and-forth between the integration and separation of memories is crucial to the formation and organization of memory.
  3. Positive emotional changes, especially in intense positive emotions, can merge different elements of an experience in memory.

Source: UCLA

Time passes in a continuous flow, but our memories are divided into distinct episodes, all of which are part of our personal narrative.

How emotions shape this process of memory formation is a mystery that science has recently begun to unravel. The latest clue comes from psychologists at UCLA, who discovered that fluctuating emotions elicited by music help form separate, long-lasting memories.

The study, published in Natural communications, used music to manipulate the emotions of volunteers performing simple tasks on a computer. Researchers found that the dynamics of people’s emotions transformed otherwise neutral experiences into memorable events.

“The changes in emotion evoked by the music created boundaries between episodes that made it easier for people to remember what they had seen and when they had seen it,” the author said principal Mason McClay, a doctoral student in psychology at UCLA. “We believe this discovery holds great therapeutic promise for helping people suffering from PTSD and depression. »

Over time, people need to consolidate information because there are too many things to remember (and not all of them are useful). Two processes appear to be involved in transforming experiences into memories over time: the first integrates our memories, compresses them, and links them into individualized episodes; the other expands and separates each memory as the experience recedes into the past.

There is a constant tug of war between integrating memories and separating them, and it is this push and pull that helps form distinct memories. This flexible process helps a person understand and find meaning in their experiences, as well as retain information.

“It’s like putting things in boxes for long-term storage,” said corresponding author David Clewett, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA.

“When we need to retrieve information, we open the box that contains it. What this research shows is that emotions seem to be an effective box for doing this kind of organizing and making memories more accessible.

A similar effect may explain why Taylor Swift’s “Eras Tour” was so effective at creating vivid, lasting memories: Her concert contains meaningful chapters that can be opened and closed to relive highly emotional experiences.

McClay and Clewett, along with Matthew Sachs of Columbia University, hired composers to create music specifically designed to elicit happy, anxious, sad, or calm feelings of varying intensity.

Study participants listened to the music while imagining a narrative to accompany a series of neutral images on a computer screen, such as a slice of watermelon, a wallet, or a soccer ball. They also used a computer mouse to track moment-to-moment changes in their feelings using a new tool developed to track emotional responses to music.

Then, after completing a distracting task, participants were again shown pairs of images in random order. For each pair, they were asked which image they saw first, then how far apart in time they felt they saw the two objects.

Pairs of objects that participants had seen immediately before and after a change in emotional state—whether high, low, or medium intensity—were remembered as having occurred further back in time than the images did. not covering an emotional change.

Participants also had poorer memory for the order of items that covered emotional changes compared to items they viewed while in a more stable emotional state. These effects suggest that a change in emotion resulting from listening to music precluded new memories.

“This tells us that intense moments of emotional change and suspense, like the musical phrases from Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ might be remembered as having lasted longer than less emotional experiences of the same duration,” McClay said . “Musicians and composers who weave emotional events to tell a story may imbue our memories with a rich temporal structure and a longer sense of time.”

The direction of the emotion change also mattered. Memory integration was best – that is, memories of sequential items seemed closer together in time and participants remembered their order better – when the shift was toward more emotional emotions. positive. On the other hand, switching to more negative emotions (from calmer to sadder, for example) tended to separate and widen the mental distance between new memories.

Participants were also surveyed the next day to assess their long-term memory and showed better memory for items and times when their emotions changed, especially if they were experiencing intense positive emotions. This suggests that feeling more positive and energetic can merge different elements of an experience in memory.

Sachs highlighted the usefulness of music as an intervention technique.

“Most music therapies for disorders rely on the fact that listening to music can help patients relax or feel pleasure, which reduces negative emotional symptoms,” he said.

“The benefits of listening to music in these cases are therefore secondary and indirect. Here, we suggest a possible mechanism by which emotionally dynamic music could directly address the memory problems that characterize these disorders.

Clewett said these findings could help people reintegrate memories that caused post-traumatic stress disorder.

“If traumatic memories are not properly preserved, their contents will spill out when the closet door is opened, often without warning. This is why ordinary events, like fireworks, can trigger flashbacks of traumatic experiences, like surviving a bombing or gunshots,” he said.

“We believe 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 carry over into everyday life .”

Funding: The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, UCLA and Columbia University.

About this music and memory research news

Author: Holly Ober
Source: UCLA
Contact: Holly Ober-UCLA
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Dynamic emotional states shape the episodic structure of memory” by Mason McClay et al. Natural communications


Dynamic emotional states shape episodic memory structure

Human emotions fluctuate over time. However, it is unclear how these changing emotional states influence the organization of episodic memory. Here we examine how the dynamics of emotions transform experiences into memorable events.

Using personalized musical pieces and a dynamic emotion tracker to elicit and measure temporal fluctuations in felt valence and arousal, our results demonstrate that memory is organized around emotional states.

When listening to music, fluctuations between different emotional valences bias the temporal encoding process toward memory integration or separation. While a significant absolute or negative change in valence helps segment memories into episodes, a positive emotional change links sequential representations together.

Both discrete and dynamic changes in valence and arousal evoked by music also enhance memory for delayed items and temporal source for concurrent neutral items, signaling the onset of new emotional events.

These results are consistent with the idea that the rise and fall of emotions can transform ongoing experiences into memories of meaningful events.

Gn Health

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