Durham University: Negative music strikes a positive note in listeners’ memories

This latest project from Dr Jakubowski is part of a larger research programme on how music can influence our memories. The team wanted to further explore the power of music to see if the same vivid and emotional memories, present in the previous research, were achieved when listening to music as compare against other equally emotional memory cues, such as words and sounds.

The team compiled a range of instrumental clips from different genres of music, such as pop, classical and heavy metal, and matched these instrumental clips to similarly emotional environmental sounds, such as bird song, waves crashing on a beach and power tools being used.

Each music clip was also matched to a word which conveyed a similar feeling, for example “glory”, “money” and “flamingo” were deemed to positive words, and negative words included “tornado” and “insanity”. The words were selected from the pre-existing English Lexicon Project, a large linguistic database which includes data on the emotions evoked by around 14,000 words.

Interesting results
The study showed that the instrumental clips evoked fewer autobiographical memories, as compared against both the environmental sounds and words.

However, Dr Jakubowski’s research did find that the music evoked primarily positive memories, regardless of the emotional tone of the music being played. For example, negative sounds and words evoked more negative memories, whereas sad and angry instrumental clips brought back just as positive memories as joyful pieces of music

The results of the study show the potential benefits of music in everyday cues in evoking positive memories compared to other everyday cues, and could be a useful tool for music therapists, or even in advertising to achieve a positive reminiscence.

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