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What was your favourite song growing up? What was the tune you danced to on your wedding day? Does a familiar melody bring you back to when you first heard it played? A recent study has found that when prompted, people from different age groups recall more personal memories via music compared to another strong evoker of memories, food.

The study included 78 adults from the UK and the US, between the ages of 18-35 and 60-80. So, it wasn’t a large study, but the researchers were more interested in the in-depth analysis of each person. Participants kept a diary of memories triggered separately by music and food for several days. They noted how long they were exposed to either the music or food; what specific item triggered the memor;, and how the memory made them feel.

The study found that while food-related memories were mostly associated with eating or preparing a meal, music triggered memories in more diverse situations, such as studying, cleaning or driving.

The study suggests that music may be an effective memory trigger because it can evoke autobiographical memories through a diverse range of routes. For example, a song’s lyrics may remind someone of a similar situation from their life, even if the song was not heard during the original event. The researchers believe that the study’s findings provide new insights into why music may be a more effective trigger for personally valued memories than other everyday cues and believe the findings provide evidence for the power of music as an everyday memory cue, which can enhance peoples’ wellbeing.

The study also found that there were no differences in the number and involuntary nature of the memories evoked between the two age groups. This suggests that music remains a key memory cue throughout our lives, even though some aspects of our memory may decline as we age. It also links with the growing body of research suggesting that music (and music therapy, especially in older people) may have benefits on our mental health and even our general wellbeing, with some smaller studies showing listening to familiar music helped to reduce depression and anxiety, decrease stress and improve social connection.

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