“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.
This project was featured on the Possible Podcast series from Durham University’s Arts & Humanities Entrepreneur in Residence programme. See press coverage of our MEAMs research by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News, PBS News Hour, The Times, The Daily Mail, and El Correo.
What types of MEAMs do different people experience?
We aim to collect the largest 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 are more regularly associated with MEAMs.
How are MEAMs experienced in everyday life?
We are collecting data on the experience of MEAMs in people’s daily lives via diaries, in order to gain a better understanding of the prevalence and features of everyday MEAMs. We will also investigate how the features of everyday MEAMs vary in different demographic groups.
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.
Jakubowski, K., Eerola, T., Tillmann, B., Perrin, F., & Heine, L. (2020). A cross-sectional study of reminiscence bumps for music-related memories in adulthood. Music & Science, 3, DOI:10.1177/2059204320965058.
Jakubowski, K., & Ghosh, A. (2019). Music-evoked autobiographical memories in everyday life. Psychology of Music, DOI:10.1177/0305735619888803.
Some first summaries of our research comparing MEAMs to TV-evoked autobiographical memories are available here (conference presentation).
This research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, via an Early Career Fellowship awarded to Kelly Jakubowski.