The Music Remains
December 13, 2013

The Music Remains

I love music. Who does not? From Nightwish to Lindsey Stirling to Korn to Johnny Cash, I have a song playing in my headphones nearly every waking hour. Even as I write this I am listening to “Undead” by Hollywood Undead. Music is a powerful influence over our lives. It affects how we live, how we play, and even how we feel in any given moment. When angry, I enjoy listening to something loud and heavy that draws out my frustration, gives it release. When happy, I do the same with more upbeat and softer music. When sad or just melancholy, nothing beats the classics like Mozart. Truth be told, I cannot imagine my life without music in it. So, given how important music is to me, to almost anyone, what would happen if we were to suffer from memory loss due to an injury? Would this love of music be gone as well, or could the music that we love be the key to recovering that which has been lost?

In this groundbreaking study, researchers Amee Baird and Séverine Samson have used popular music to help patients who have suffered severe brain trauma recall personal memories. This is the first time in which “music-evoked autobiographical memories,” or MEAMs, have been used to help patients with ABIs, or “acquired brain injuries,” as opposed to those who have not suffered an injury-based trauma or are suffering from something such as Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, the researchers played music from the “Billboard Hot 100” number-one songs in a random order to five different patients. They chose songs from the whole of the patient’s life, starting from age five, in order to attempt to draw out their memories. Similarly, this treatment was also played for a control group that had not suffered any sort of brain injury. Once all of the patients and the control group had listened to their play-lists, they were all asked to note how familiar they were with the various songs, if they liked them or not, and what sorts of memories the music invoked in them. What they found was incredible. It was discovered, at least in their test group, that the frequency of recorded MEAMs was similar for both the patients and control group. Only one of the four tested ABI patients recorded no MEAMs whatsoever, and the highest number of MEAMs in the whole group was recorded by another patient, not one of the control. In the group that was studied, the majority of the MEAMs were of people or life periods that were typically positive in nature. Both of the researchers hope that their study will lead others to carry out further tests of the same nature, with larger test and control groups. They have called for further studies in both healthy subjects and in patients with other neurological conditions, as well as others with ABIs, to try and learn more about the relationship between music, memory, and emotion.

No one can deny how important music is to humanity. It is a huge part of our culture, not to mention our individuality. Personally, I was surprised to learn that the study that Amee Baird and Séverine Samson undertook was the first of its kind, though I am glad to hear how positive the results of the study were. With further study, perhaps we can gain a better understanding of how music influences us and just how we can use it to help those who have suffered memory loss due to an ABI or any other cause.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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