Musical Memory: Power of Psychology – Mrs Wilcock

Driving home from work last week, ‘Down in the Tube Station’ by The Jam came on the radio.  After singing along, loudly and tunelessly, my thoughts turned to memory.

Psychology has a lot of say about different types of memory: short-term, long-term, false memories, flashbulb memories and many more. One other way memory is differentiated is between explicit and implicit.  Explicit means deliberate – for example revising information for your exams.  Over time, these memories fade if we don’t revisit them frequently. Implicit memory, on the other hand, is like ‘muscle-memory’ or ‘automated’ memory.  An example would be riding a bike – once you can do it well, you never forget how. What is interesting is that music often starts as explicit, by deliberately memorising the words to a song, or the notes to play a piece of music, but over time, these transfer into implicit memory.  This explains why, despite not having heard a song for many months or years, you find yourself singing along as though you last heard it yesterday!   

Additionally, musical memory can be created by another psychological phenomenon altogether – the ‘mere exposure effect’.  This is when we develop a preference for something just because it is familiar.  If your parents are 80’s kids like me, you probably know as much Madonna, Wham and Duran Duran music as you do current artists (and you possibly like it better too). It’s why I can sing along to The Jam, despite being just 2 years old when that song was released. 

The relationship between music and memory is powerful.  A piece of music can transport us in an instant to another time and place entirely, and allow us to feel the associated emotions too.  You don’t need to understand music, or psychology, to experience this. Music is your own wonderful, personal, time-machine.  The songs you are listening to on repeat today will forever transport you back to your time at RHS – so choose wisely! 

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