Academic journal article Psychomusicology

The Effects of Song Familiarity and Age on Phenomenological Characteristics and Neural Recruitment during Autobiographical Memory Retrieval

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

The Effects of Song Familiarity and Age on Phenomenological Characteristics and Neural Recruitment during Autobiographical Memory Retrieval

Article excerpt

Autobiographical memories are our personal record of the past, making their retrieval integral to our well-being. Since not all memories are associated with the same degree of richness at the time of retrieval, it is important to understand the individual subject and stimulus-related factors that separately or interactively influence the richness of autobiographical memories. In other words, it is important to identify features that enhance memory retrieval, and to consider how such enhancements differ across individuals. Although it is difficult to evaluate retrieval accuracy in autobiographical memory tasks due to a lack of a controlled research environment at encoding, it is possible to isolate factors that increase memory success (i.e., the ability to retrieve a memory associated with a retrieval cue) or memory richness (i.e., subjective or objective ratings of the quality of retrieved events). Prior research suggests that emotional music clips can serve as a highly successful tool for eliciting rich autobiographical memories (Barrett et al., 2010; Cady, Harris, & Knappenberger, 2008; Ford, Addis, & Giovanello, 2011, 2012, 2014; Janata, 2009b; Janata, Tomic, & Rakowski, 2007; Schulkind & Woldorf, 2005). Indeed, Schulkind and Woldorf (2005) found that retrieval success in their autobiographical memory study (82%) was higher than that in a similar study utilizing verbal retrieval cues (61%; Rubin & Schulkind, 1997). These findings highlight the potential for musical cues to lead to enhanced retrieval relative to traditional word cues.

There is reason to believe that such mnemonic enhancement may be related to the familiarity of musical cues, where highly familiar musical cues support a richer memory representation. Specifically, self-reported song familiarity has been associated with enhanced ratings of nostalgia (Barrett et al., 2010) and autobiographical salience (Janata et al., 2007) in young adult participants. This relation between song familiarity and autobiographical salience is further supported by functional neuroimaging data showing that these processes have overlapping neural networks. Specifically, these studies reveal significant modulation of prefrontal regions as a function of song familiarity (Janata, 2009b; Plailly, Tillmann, & Royet, 2007; Platel, Baron, Desgranges, Bernard, & Eustache, 2003) and highlight a critical role of these regions in self-referential processing during autobiographical memory retrieval (Gilboa, 2004; Svoboda, McKinnon, & Levine, 2006).

The overlap of regions associated with music familiarity and autobiographical memory retrieval has led Janata (2009a) to propose that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is a critical hub that is involved in the association of music, emotion, and autobiographical memories. This proposal has been supported by an autobiographical memory study in which the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) responded parametrically to ratings of both autobiographical salience and song familiarity, and tracked the movements of clips through tonal space (Janata, 2009b). Additionally, an autobiographical memory study from our lab utilized a musical cuing paradigm to identify neural regions associated with increased temporal specificity in a young adult sample. In that study, the dmPFC was linearly related to temporal specificity, showing greater recruitment during retrieval of events relative to lifetime periods, as well as greater recruitment during retrieval of specific events relative to general events (Ford et al., 2011). Together, these findings suggest that the dmPFC may be involved in enhancing phenomenological characteristics during memory retrieval, leading to a richer, more vivid memory representation.

The research described above has largely focused on memory enhancements in young adults; however, the enhancing effects of song familiarity may be more important to consider in populations with reported deficits in memory retrieval, such as healthy older adults. …

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