Time flows without interruption. However, our memories are divided into individual episodes, all of which become part of our personal story. How emotions shape this memory formation process is a mystery that science is only recently beginning to understand. The latest clues come from UCLA psychologists who discovered that the fluctuating emotions evoked by music help form discrete, lasting memories.
This study nature communications, used music to manipulate the emotions of volunteers performing simple tasks on a computer. Researchers have found that people’s emotional dynamics shape neutral experiences into memorable events.
The emotional changes caused by the music created boundaries between episodes, making it easier for people to remember what they saw and when. We believe this discovery will have significant therapeutic effects in helping people with PTSD and depression. ”
Mason McCray, first author, UCLA psychology doctoral student
Over time, people need to group information because there is too much to remember (and not all of it is useful). Two processes seem to be involved in turning experiences into memories over time. The first consolidates our memories, compressing them into individual episodes and linking them. The other expands and separates each memory as the experience recedes into the past. There is a constant tug-of-war between memory consolidation and segregation, and this push and pull helps form distinct memories. This flexible process not only helps people understand and find meaning in their experiences, but also retains information.
“It’s like putting things in boxes for long-term storage,” says corresponding author David Cluett, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA. “When we need to retrieve information, we open the box it’s in. What this research shows is that emotions are effective in doing this kind of organization and making memories more accessible.” It seems to be a typical box.”
A similar effect may help explain why Taylor Swift’s “Ellas Tour” is so effective at creating vivid and lasting memories. Her concerts contain meaningful chapters that can be opened and closed to relive highly emotional experiences.
McCrae and Cluett, along with Columbia University’s Matthew Sacks, hired composers to create music specifically designed to elicit emotions of varying intensities: joy, anxiety, sadness, and calm. Study participants listened to music while imagining a story that accompanied a series of neutral images on a computer screen, such as a watermelon slice, a wallet, and a soccer ball. They also used a computer mouse to track momentary changes in emotion with a new tool developed to track emotional responses to music.
Then, after performing a task aimed at distracting participants, participants were shown pairs of images again in random order. For each pair, he was asked which image he saw first, and then how far apart in time he felt he saw the two objects. Pairs of objects that participants saw immediately before and after a change in emotional state – even at high, low, and moderate intensity, but further apart in time compared to images that did not involve a change in emotion It will be remembered as having occurred. Participants also had worse memory for the order of items across emotional shifts compared to items seen while in a more stable emotional state. These effects suggest that the emotional changes caused by listening to music prevented new memories.
“This means that intense moments of emotional change or suspense, such as the musical phrases in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, may remain in the memory longer than less emotional experiences of similar length. ,” McCray said. “Musicians and composers who tell stories by weaving emotional events may imbue our memories with a richer temporal structure and a longer sense of time.”
The direction of emotional change was also important. Memory consolidation was highest – that is, memories of consecutive items felt closer together over time, and participants were better able to recall their order. When you shift to more positive emotions. On the other hand, transitions to more negative emotions (e.g., from calm to sadder emotions) tended to separate and widen the mental distance between new memories.
The next day, participants were also given a survey to assess their long-term memory, which showed that they had better memory for items and moments in which their emotions changed, especially when they experienced strong positive emotions. This suggests that when you feel more positive and energetic, different elements of your experience may be fused together in your memory.
Mr. Sacks emphasized the usefulness of music as an intervention technique.
“Most music-based treatments for disorders are based on the fact that listening to music makes patients feel relaxed and happy, which reduces negative emotional symptoms,” he says. said. Therefore, the benefits of listening to music in such cases are secondary and indirect. Here we propose a mechanism by which emotionally dynamic music may directly treat the memory problems that are characteristic of such disorders. ”
Crewett said these findings could help people reintegrate memories that caused post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When traumatic memories are not stored properly, their contents spill out when the closet door opens, often without warning. “That’s why events can trigger flashbacks of traumatic experiences, such as surviving a bombing or shooting,” he said. “Perhaps music can be used to develop positive emotions and help people with PTSD We believe we can help people re-integrate their original memories into boxes and prevent negative emotions from spilling over into their daily lives.”
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, UCLA, and Columbia University.