Mechanisms supporting recognition memory during music listening
Graham, Brittany Shauna
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We investigated the concurrent effects of arousal and encoding specificity as related to background music on associative memory accuracy. Extant literature suggested these factors affect memory, but their combined effect in musical stimuli was not clear and may affect memory differentially for young and older adults. Specifically, we sought to determine if music can be used as a mnemonic device to overcome the associative memory deficits typically experienced by healthy older adults. We used a paired-associates memory task in which young and older adults listened to either highly or lowly arousing music or to silence while simultaneously studying same gender face-name pairs. Participants' memory was then tested for these pairs while listening to either the same or different music selections. We found that young adults' memory performance was not affected by any of the music listening conditions. Music listening, however, was detrimental for older adults. Specifically, their memory performance was worse for all music conditions, particularly if the music was highly arousing. Young adults' pattern of results was not reflected in their subjective ratings of helpfulness; they felt that all music was helpful to their performance yet there was no indication of this in the results. Older adults were more aware of the detriment of music on their performance, rating some highly arousing music as less helpful than silence. We discuss possible reasons for this pattern and conclude that these results are most consistent with the theory that older adults' failure to inhibit processing of distracting task-irrelevant information, in this case background music, contributes to their elevated memory failures.