K-State Univeristy logoMusic is a very important part of everyone’s life, atleast a majority of people’s lives and how? Especially the music that paints our youth is something that we always wish to hear.

“We thought that actually hearing the song would bring back the most vivid memories,” said Richard Harris, professor of psychology at K-State and yes, it is an agreeable point.

“But in our study there wasn’t a lot of difference in memory between those who heard the song and those who didn’t. What we determined was happening is that you already know the song and you’re hearing it in your mind,” notes Harris.

Basically, Harris and Elizabeth Cady, a 2006 K-State doctoral graduate in psychology, conducted a research to explore whether actually hearing to songs or thinking about the song in other ways takes cues specific memories. The study has been co-written also by J. Bret Knappenberger, a 2004 K-State bachelor’s graduate in psychology.

The psychology experts tested 124 subjects who belonged to the age group of 18-20 in spring 2003. The pilot study inquired these volunteers on the list of songs from the five stages of their lives, namely, early childhood, grade school, middle school, high school and college.

From the list of songs, the subjects had to pick one song for each of the aforementioned stages of their life, which were very strongly attached to those times. Surprisingly, most of the subjects reported the same song associated with the same stage of life. As many as 26 percent of participants associated the Vanilla Ice song “Ice Ice Baby” to their grade school era while 36 percent related the Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” to their middle school times.

Also, researchers investigated further with the help of a control group that was given the names of the songs unlike the test group that either heard short clippings of the songs or read lyrics or were shown album artwork.

However, not much difference in the association of songs with memories was witnessed in both the groups. The obvious link that the researchers discovered was that just reminding the music in some or the other way was enough.

“Music is a very emotional stimulus,” said Harris. “It’s autobiographical in that we remember events from a long time ago with strong emotion. These pop songs were played many times, so there’s a lot of repeat presentation.”

One interesting example that the researchers quote is that even when the song “Eye of the tiger” was released in the year 1982 which is before the subjects were born, it reminded the subjects their high school sporting events strongly!

Another aspect of the link between human’s psychology and music that the researchers have brought to light is that music is multimodal and it combines words and instrumentation. These words and instrumentations are generally processed by differently by different part of our brains. Hence, as Harris puts it, if we cant remember the words, we remember the music, be it advertising jingles like he remembers or anything that our brain understands and enjoy.