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Bring That Beat Back To Me Again

Here is an article that discusses music and memory. I think we all intuitively feel the link between the two. I found it interesting how others also include concepts like “innocence” and “youth” in describing this feeling. Also, the observation that music paints the background of our lives seems very true. Bold words are some of the highlights:

Good Question: Why Does Music Bring Us Back?

(WCCO) To the crowd of women in their late twenties and early thirties lined up at the Mall of America for a free concert by New Kids On The Block, the question was easy to answer. Does music transport you back in time to a certain memory or certain place?

“Back when I was in 5th grade, in love,” said one woman. “It takes you back to that innocence,” said another. “Harriet Island,” said another fan of the boy band. “Where we sat outside waiting the whole day, it was crazy.”

Outside of a smell, music may be the only thing that can so strongly trigger a memory.

“It’s an extremely emotional trigger. You can put a soundtrack to almost every memory you have I think,” one woman said. “And the feelings that those songs conjure up are extremely strong.”

If their parents listened to Elvis, these women listen to boy bands. It’s a phenomenon Peter Mercer-Taylor has studied as a professor in the University Of Minnesota School Of Music. One band in particular does the trick for him.

“It’s always the Beatles, and I think it comes down to ‘Please, Please Me,” said Mercer-Taylor.

“We associate music with every stage of being a young person,” he added. It’s a phenomenon almost entirely linked to childhood.

It seems like at every stage of being young, music is there to provide the soundtrack. I’m not that’s true of adulthood; I’m not sure what the soundtrack of adulthood is like. I think we come to associate music itself with just being young and innocent,” he said.

Mercer-Taylor said that it’s not entirely a psychological phenomenon. Researchers have found a link to brain activity.

“There’s certainly accounts of adults with dementia who are able to recite songs perfectly, but have lost the ability to speak,” he said.

“There are very interesting things like this. The brain seems to store these things differently. It seems to develop catalogs of music when it doesn’t necessarily have a workable catalog of speech,” said Mercer-Taylor.

Neurobiologists are still trying to figure out why music triggers such strong memories. They have detected that music stimulates several different areas of the brain. One theory is that our memories work like a file cabinet. It can be difficult to pull out a memory if it’s only stored in one file.

But with music, memories are stored in several files. The melody is in one spot, the harmony in another, the instrumental somewhere else, the lyrics are in another location. Because so many areas are being stimulated, it may create a stronger emotional response.

For most of us, though, hearing a song will take us back to that special girl that got away, a junior high school dance, or the boy band star we always dreamed of marrying.

“I think it’s wonderful. There’s nothing that makes you feel like that anymore,” said one New Kids On The Block fan.


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  1. 08/09/2008 at 7:40 am

    It's a phenomenon almost entirely linked to childhood.what?!? you know why that's true?? because GROWN-UPS DON'T LISTEN TO MUSIC ANYMORE! especially after they start having kids. sure, they hear music in the background, or they'll put on some generic music in the car, or whatever, but the fact is, adults (again, especially parents) stop listening to specific music and experiencing the music they listen to. they don't invest, emotionally, in music, as a general rule. how else could music take you back?music still works very powerfully for me this way, and i'm well into adulthood. it's a benefit of not having children, maybe. but yeah, songs very definitely take me back to certain times. my life is a musical! ;o)memories work like a file cabineti wonder if Rich will read this. it might make him chuckle. (a file cabinet in your head??)

  2. 08/09/2008 at 1:58 pm

    Yeah, you're probably right. I may not be that old, but there are certain songs that will bring me back just a few years, not to my childhood, but to other years of my adulthood. So I don't think it need be linked to our childhood. But in virtue of it being a memory, it does bring us back to a time in our past, which always seems more innocent and precious for some peculiar reason.

  3. 08/10/2008 at 12:46 am

    it did! AND it stems from a discussion on music which means that the filing cabinets are most likely to be found in the EARS!

  4. 08/10/2008 at 8:20 am

    d'oh! you called it. however, maybe it depends on where each memory or bit of information is coming from. what about when you learn something by reading? there's no way for it to go in through your eyes, so the nose would then make sense.OR – maybe it comes IN through the filing cabinet in the ear, and OUT through the nose. i'm still awfully fond of the sneezing thing. anyway, guess it's time to rearrange some of the furniture in my head.

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