Behind every song, there is a story – and we intend to share them.
It’s no secret that music has a powerful influence over our memory. Whether recalling the first time you heard a song from your favourite band, or remembering the track that was playing when you first asked your girlfriend out, music often helps us place people, locations and emotions in our memory spectrum. But what is it about music and songs that connects so strongly with our memories? Is it the composition? Is it the tune? Or is it just the fact that some songs are just so God damn catchy? If the last were true, it might cause us to speculate that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe will be the most remembered song of all time. Dear GOD, let it not be so.
It can also be speculated that these memorable songs often play a featuring role in our lives, and in some cases, influence the way we conduct ourselves as adults. Whilst we may not quite know why certain songs get stuck in our heads, researcher Petr Janata, associate professor at UC Davis in the Psychology Department, has been looking into these song related memories and how strongly music is embedded into our recollection of events.
In order to test the music memory theory, a research group, led by Jantra, collected 1,500 ‘preview’ clips from the iTunes music store listing the top songs from the past two decades. The researchers wanted to test the sample songs with a group of college students, to see which ones were most likely to have been heard whilst the subjects were growing up. Each student heard 30 random songs that were released when they were between the ages of 7 and 19-years-old. The songs were then rated by the subjects for familiarity, like/dislike and if they evoked any memories. The students then demonstrated what emotions they associated with the song by categorising them into memories of place, person or event, and allocating each memory with a one word description.
Out of the 329 participants, on average around half of the songs were recognised. Of the songs that were familiar to the subjects, the strength of autobiographical memories was increased. From the collated data it was found that a large number of the memories in this study were about discos or cars — places where people are likely to be listening to music. Shown in the graph below are the findings from the study, showcasing that familiar songs to students were more likely to be associated with a memory of some sort.
Whilst this study can’t determine how accurate the memories experienced by the participants actually were, it can give us an idea of how we as humans associate with past music in the present. It gives us an insight into the ways in which memories are stored in our mind and also helps us understand the way emotions are connected to certain songs. It’s not about how catchy or well crafted the song is, it’s about the connections we form to it.
Hopefully, that means that Carly Rae Jepsen won’t be making a reappearance in our memory thirty years down the track, unless of course we need some assistance on how to give our phone number out to a prospective love interest.