When flipping through the stations of a radio while on the go, it’s a common treat to come upon a song that strikes a certain inner chord — for its sound or for its lyrics, we can easily become attracted to new music. But an even more fascinating phenomenon lies within the experience of tuning into an old classic, whether it’s a long-time favorite or simply something heard long ago during formative years. For most people, hearing and recognizing an old song brings back vivid memories. Certain events or periods in life may flash through the mind, or detailed scenes may replay, all at the stirring of those special notes. But recently, a psychology team at Kansas State University wanted to find out if it was the actual hearing of old songs that brought about vivid memories of the past, or whether the brain can produce these scenes and images without the aid of aural stimulation.
Researchers compiled lists of older songs from a broad range of students at the university, creating a body of music sure to ring bells for the test subjects. Control groups were shown the list, exposed only to the titles and artists, while test groups were exposed to clips of the songs themselves, and others were given printed lyrics or album art. Participants then wrote detailed memories associated with given songs. Interestingly enough, those shown only the list of titles and artists produced memories and images that were just as detailed as those who were exposed to the sensory stimuli, leading the research team to conclude that that our own inner representations of songs are as powerful as the experience of actually hearing them. So next time you long to hear a favorite childhood tune, just hum along or recall its chorus and you’ll be on your way down memory lane.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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