“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” -Oscar Wilde

Most people are highly familiar with music’s ability to trigger an array memories of events, people, places, and time periods–and associated emotions–from across the lifespan. Here in Durham Music & Science Lab we are investigating a variety of questions related to music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs), in particular the prevalence, features, and retrieval of these memories, how MEAMs vary across the population, and whether music has any unique ability to evoke qualitatively different memories than other common memory triggers.

What types of MEAMs do different people experience?

We aim to collect the largest number and most diverse range of reports of MEAM experiences to date in order to examine similarities and differences in MEAMs across a variety of demographic groups. We will examine the content and contextual factors surrounding MEAMs, emotional responses, and whether particular pieces of music have a tendency to be more effective triggers of MEAMs.

How are MEAMs experienced in everyday life?

We are collecting data on the experience of MEAMs in people’s daily lives in order to gain a better understanding of the prevalence and features of everyday instances of MEAMs. We will also investigate how the features of everyday MEAMs vary according to age and music listening frequency.

How do MEAMs compare to memories triggered by other cultural products?

The ‘power of music’ to trigger memories is often emphasised in literary and pop cultural sources. However, only a small amount of previous research has aimed to investigate whether the memories triggered by music are any different to other everyday memory experiences. We are planning psychological experiments to compare similarities and differences between MEAMs and other types of memories in terms of their retrieval, content, and emotional responses.

This research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, via an Early Career Fellowship awarded to Kelly JakubowskiLeverhulme_Trust_CMYK_blue