The Impact of Music in Memory

Memory is a complex ability. That being said, there are three types of memories: long-term memory, short-term (usually referred to as working memory), and sensory memory. In order to save the information into long-term memory, the information should be processed through sensory and short-term memory. Short-term memory is the working mechanism, however, it holds up to 6 items at the same time and it is limited from 10-60 seconds. The different types of memories differ substantially, however, they work together to memorization (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1971). Other factors affecting memory, especially short-term memory, are still unknown. Thus, we believe that one of the factors that can have an effect on shortterm memory is music. Music is a play of tones, which is fixed and is usually perceived as satisfying. In other words, it is a combination of sounds (Wiora, 1963).
A lot of research has been done on the effects of music and sounds on performance in many study areas. However, there have been mixed results about what kind of effects music can have. The musical pleasure was found to influence task performance, and the direction of this effect was dependent on the individual factors (Gold, Frank, Bogert, & Brattico, 2013). In this line, Martin, Wogalter, and Forlano (1988) showed that lyrical music impaired reading comprehension. However, the music and cognition literature suggests that music increases cognitive performance (Hallam, Price, & Katsarou, 2002; Särkämö et al., 2008). Thus, the causality of the effect of music is still unknown.
Other studies also showed mixed results when it comes to the effect of music on memory. For example, Christopher and Shelton (2017) showed that music negatively affected overall reading performance. It also showed that attention is a crucial factor that protects individuals from such music and sounds distractions when completing certain tasks. Short-term memory, which is referred to as working memory, showed a moderation effect of the music on the overall reading performance. Similarly, Fassbender, Richards, Bilgin, Thompson, and Heiden (2012), found that music negatively affected memory during a study or learning phase but increased mood and sports performance. On the other hand, music was found to have a positive effect on adult working memory performance. This study, however, used only a specific type of music, which is an excerpt from Vivaldi’s “Four Season” (Mammarella, Fairfield, & Cornoldi, 2007). Further benefits of music are positive emotions and mood regulation (Sloboda & O’neill, 2001; Saarikallio & Erkkilä, 2007). Studies showed that listening to music, which individuals found pleasurable, yielded in a significant increase in dopamine, which is the hormone of happiness (Nadler, Rabi, & Minda, 2010). Moreover, some studies imply that Mozart Effect can boost cognitive performance (Rauscher, Shaw, & Ky, 1993). However, it is still unknown if there are causal effects between these factors. Therefore, further subsequent studies have revealed that Mozart’s compositions do not directly affect cognitive performance, but it rather affects mood and exploit positive emotions (Nantais & Schellenberg, 1999; Thompson, Schellenberg, & Husain, 2001).
To further investigate the effect of positive emotions and mood on short-term memory, Carpenter (2012) experimented with older adults (aged 63-85). Participants were asked to complete a computer-based task, in which they had the opportunity to win money or lose money depending on the decision they made, which required memorization. Participants who were assigned to the positive-feeling condition demonstrated improved short-term memory capacity. This study concluded that the effect of feeling good can have an effect on short-term memory and in the decision making process. Based on similar studies, the Chinese University of Hong Kong used music as a training method for memory. They found that pupils who undergo musical training demonstrated better verbal but not visual memory than did their counterparts without such training.