Most of us have had the experience of getting a catchy jingle, pop song, or TV show theme song stuck in our heads. Up until now, we might have labeled this as one of the pitfalls of the human brain, but a team of researchers from UC David TK UC DAVIS? suggest that it’s actually one of the most powerful ways our brain creates lasting memories.
Earworms and Memory
Previous studies have been done linking music to the memory centers in our brain. The most recent research aims to find out, for the first time, how an “earworm” — another word for a song that gets stuck in your head — could impact long-term memory.
For the new study, the researchers worked with 31 people. The subjects first listened to music they weren’t familiar with. One week later, they listened to the same music again while watching clips of a movie they’d never seen before. In the next part of the experiment, they also watched movie clips without music. The subjects were then asked to remember as many details as they could from the movie as they listened to the same music. They were also quizzed to test their recollection of the songs and how often they experienced each of the songs as an earworm.
According to the results of the experiment, those who reported getting the songs stuck in their heads experienced near-perfect retention of the movie details. In fact, their memory of the movie details were found to be just as good as when they first saw the movie. Most of the subjects also reported what they were doing when the earworms entered their minds, and according to their reports, they did not think about the movie while having the song in their head. In other words, the brain seemed to be able to store memories of the movie associated with the music without the person having to think about the movie each time the song played in their head.
“We typically think of earworms as random nuisance beyond our control,” said Benjamin Kubit, lead author of the study. “But our results show that earworms are a naturally occurring memory process that helps preserve recent experiences in long-term memory.” Pretty interesting!
The researchers are excited and hopeful about their findings, suggesting that these results may aid in the development of music-based interventions for those suffering from dementia and other neurological disorders. According to them, using music could be one avenue for helping people remember events, people, and daily tasks.
So the next time you have something important to remember, try playing a catchy tune in the background. It could help you preserve those memories for the long haul!