BY MIKE PODSEDLY Published in Smoke Signals July 2020 Issue
“THE GREATEST MUSIC OF OUR LIFETIMES” is our slogan that is backed by science. Studies show that music can be a particularly effective cue for bringing one back to sights and sounds of events from across our life spans. These have been labeled MEAMS, Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories.
The link between cues and associated memory have been demonstrated in several controlled settings with a variety of participants. Favorite songs are typically listened to much more frequently over one’s lifetime than films or books.
Our preferred music is rooted in adolescence and early adulthood. Research revealed songs released when the participant was 10 to 30 years old are preferred, better recognized and elicit heightened emotional responses compared to songs from other periods. There is also a bump in ages 40 to 50 years old. For example, if you are 70 years old today then the music from 1960 to 1980 would be called your favorites. There might also be some favorites from 1990 to 2000.
The average study participant listened to music 30 min to 1 hour per half day. The number of MEAMS reported was positively associated with the volume of music listening in total. MEAMS can be effectively evoked most often in situations where your attention is not explicitly focused on music. Most MEAMS were experienced during background listening. They can occur while driving/traveling, doing housework, at work, relaxing, socializing, etc. MEAMS were reported as involuntary rather than deliberately retrieved. Another finding I found interesting was that there was no significant difference in the occurrence of MEAMS between musicians and non-musicians since I fall in the latter group.
Older adults reported more positive emotions in response to their MEAMS as expected. They also reported having more vivid memories. MEAMS are a relatively common everyday experience which serve to transport us back to life events that are often highly vivid, positive and social in nature. MEAMS have a role in maintaining one’s life narrative and evolving sense of self. This might also explain why people tend to reject the music of younger generations due to the lack of MEAMS experienced by them.
Personally, I have been constructing a timeline of significant events during my life as defined by me. I have then noted what songs bring the sharpest recall of each of these events. The process is not this clean because sometimes the music suggests the events and other times the events might lead me to the selection of the music.
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