Virtual Music and Memory Study

  • End date
    Dec 1, 2023
Updated on 23 January 2023
alzheimer's disease
psychological symptoms
Online studies
Accepts healthy volunteers


Music may serve as a low-cost complementary treatment for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias, utilizing songs bound to memories. Music improves dementia’s psychological symptoms, but the role of memory-evoking music on autobiographical memory is less clear. Despite that People-of-Colour are disproportionately affected by dementia, they are under-included in research. The proposed study investigates whether individualized memory-evoking, compared to musically-matched non-nostalgic control music immediately benefits autobiographical memory in older adults (aged 50-80) from underrepresented communities. We examine memory retrieval, mechanism, and “reliving”. The study will include 13 assessments spread out by one week, during which participants will listen to music that is nostalgic or not nostalgic and complete two autobiographical memory tasks. Analyses, using R statistics, will assess whether listening to nostalgic music prior to assessments results in differences in autobiographical memory performance than non-nostalgic music. Findings will inform future investigations of memory-evoking music on autobiographical memory and neural mechanisms in clinical populations.


1. Background/Rationale Music-evoked autobiographical memories, referred to as MEAMs (Janata et al., 2007) are strong personal memories, often with emotional content, that are elicited by a musical stimulus. Anecdotal evidence for the preservation of MEAMs in Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias is widely available, with written and filmed stories detailing that a musical piece appears to temporarily “unlock” an individual with otherwise apparent and profound memory impairment (i.e: Rossatto-Bennett, 2014). Intervention programs to utilize personalized music as a supplemental tool in caring for individuals with cognitive decline have appeared across the world (i.e: Music & Memory®). These programs have shown to decrease behavioural and psychological symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease and use of antipsychotic and anxiolytic medications in participating nursing homes (Thomas et al., 2017). However, the effect of memory-evoking music on actual autobiographical memory retrieval is less studied. Music selected by researchers, not specifically identified as memory-evoking, has been shown to improve autobiographical memory recall in adults with mild and moderate dementia, as compared to silence (Foster & Valentine, 2001; Irish et al., 2006) or ambient noise (Garćia et al., 2012a). Music self-selected by participants based on enjoyment (“favourite pieces”) also appears to evoke more specific, vivid, and self-defining memories than experimenter-chosen music and silence in Alzheimer’s disease patients (El Haj, Fasotti, et al., 2012; El Haj, Postal, et al., 2012; Haj et al., 2015). Musical pieces self-selected by participants specifically for their ability to evoke a memory have been shown to increase vividness in autobiographical memory recall when compared to images of famous faces in healthy adults (Belfi et al., 2016). These studies demonstrate the ability of music, both self-and experimenter-selected, to improve autobiographical memory retrieval in both healthy adults and clinical populations. However, several questions are left unanswered. First, it is not clear whether music that is self-selected for its memory-evoking quality is unique in the ability to improve autobiographical memory recall. It may be that any pleasant musical stimulus is enough to elicit vivid memories, and that memory-evoking songs do not offer any additional or distinguishable benefit. While some studies have utilized participant-selected music (e.g: El Haj, Fasotti, et al., 2012; El Haj, Postal, et al., 2012), the observed effects when compared to experimenter-selected songs may have been due to an effect of a preferred set of musical features, and not a memory-evoking quality of the music. For example, Irish et al., 2006 observed reduced state anxiety associated with non-memory-evoking music as compared to silence, and El Haj et al., 2012 found that memories recalled after music listening contained more emotionally positive words, suggesting that memory enhancements may have simply been due to a more relaxed or positive mental state induced by pleasurable music. To determine whether effects of enjoyable music and memory-evoking music are distinguishable in their ability to improve autobiographical memory retrieval, all stimuli must be personalized for each participant and matched for musical features in their ability to create a pleasant and relaxed emotional state. The nature and mechanistic retrieval of memories elicited by music is also underexplored. It is unclear whether memories evoked by music are truly involuntary, as they appear anecdotally, or if music may instead serve as a cue for strategic recall. While past work has used retrieval time as a proxy for a measure of involuntary recall (El Haj, 2015), experimental manipulation of voluntary and involuntary retrieval may further elucidate this mechanism. Additionally, it is not known if music-evoking songs produce benefits in the retrieval of both fact-based autobiographical memories and t.

Condition Alzheimer's Disease, Dementia, Healthy Volunteer
Clinical Study IdentifierTX310294
Last Modified on23 January 2023


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Aged 50-80
identifies as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)
fluent in English
able to identify 6 memory-evoking songs

Exclusion Criteria

Exclusion criteria include any formal diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment or neurodegenerative disease
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