When you hear a favorite, familiar song, or a song that “comes back” it can instantly transport you to another moment in your life, bringing back the details in stunning clarity. And it’s not just a fantastic feeling – there’s a science behind how our minds associate music with memory.
There has long been a beneficial connection between music and patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Continuous listening to personally meaningful music has been found to improve brain adaptability in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment.
These songs had a unique meaning, like the music people danced to at their wedding, and led to an increase in memory performance on tests. The findings could support the inclusion of music-based therapy in the treatment of patients with cognitive impairment in the future.
The changes are most pronounced in the prefrontal cortex, known as the control center of the brain, where decision-making, moderation of social behavior, expression of personality, and planning of complex mental behavior occur.
When the patients heard music that was personal to them, it engaged a musical neural network that connected different regions of the brain, based on the patients’ MRI scans before and after listening to the music. This was different from when they heard new, unfamiliar music, which only activated the specific part of the brain that was tuned to listen.
There were only 14 participants in the study, including six musicians, and they listened to specially prepared playlists for an hour a day for three weeks. But these participants are the same ones from an earlier study that identified neural mechanisms for preserving music-related memories in those experiencing early cognitive decline.
“Whether you’re a lifelong musician or have never played an instrument, music is the key to accessing your memory, your pre-frontal cortex,” said Thaut, who is director of the University of Toronto’s Music and Health Science Research Collaborative and a professor in the Faculty of Music and Medicine. Faculty of Temerti, in a statement. He also holds a Tier One Canada Research Chair in Music, Neuroscience and Health. “It’s simple — keep listening to the music you’ve loved all your life.” Your all-time favorite songs, those pieces that are especially meaningful to you — make it your brain gym.”
The research is a promising start that could lead to the application of music therapy with a broader purpose.
It also highlights another connection: music and our personalities.
Like-minded music lovers
Music is connected to our desire to communicate, tell stories and share values with one another, and has deep roots in early human cultures.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that as humans we’ve established bonds and connections with certain genres or styles of music as a way to express ourselves and broadcast our personalities.
A recent study covering six continents with more than 350,000 participants found that personality types are associated with certain musical preferences.
Music falls into five main stylistic categories. “Mellow” is associated with soft rock, R&B and adult contemporary music, including romantic lyrics and slow beats, while “intense” is louder, more aggressive music such as punk, classic rock, heavy metal and power pop. Other categories included “contemporary” (upbeat electronica, rap, Latin and Euro-pop), “sophisticated” (classical, opera, jazz) and “unpretentious” (relaxing or country music genres).
The findings revealed direct links between extrovert and contemporary music, conscientiousness and unpretentiousness of music, pleasant and mild or unpretentious music. Openness was associated with soft, intense, sophisticated and contemporary music.
This means that songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” appeal to extroverts, while pleasant people would enjoy listening to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Meanwhile, open-minded people tend to enjoy Nina Simone or David Bowie’s classic “Space Oddity.” And all these kinds of songs have appeal that crosses national borders, according to the study.
“We were surprised at how well these patterns between music and personality replicate around the world,” study author David Greenberg, an honorary research fellow at the University of Cambridge and a postdoctoral researcher at Bar-Ilan University, said in a statement.
“People may be divided by geography, language and culture, but if an introvert in one part of the world likes the same music as an introvert elsewhere, it suggests that music could be a very powerful bridge.” Music helps people understand each other and find the Common Ground.”
These were all positive associations, but they also found a negative association between conscientiousness and intense music.
“We thought that neuroticism would probably go one of two ways, either they prefer sad music to express their loneliness or they prefer upbeat music to change their mood. In fact, on average, they seem to prefer more intense music styles, which may reflect inner fear and frustration,” Greenberg said.
“That was surprising, but people use music in different ways – some might use it for catharsis, others to change their mood. We’ll look at that in more detail.”
The researchers acknowledge that musical taste is not ingrained and can change. But the study provides a basis for understanding how music can cross other social divides and bring people together, Greenberg said.