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Testing the neurobiological model of emotion-enhanced memory with emotion elicited by music

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posted on 28.02.2017, 03:49 by Carr, Sherilene Margaret
Extensive research has revealed that central and peripheral physiological mechanisms that act to assess and respond to negative and arousing emotional events also act to consolidate memory for the event. An area of research yet to be fully investigated is the effect of positive and arousing emotion on long-term memory. The paucity of research may be due to the difficulty in experimentally manipulating positive and arousing emotions in the research laboratory. A source of emotional arousal yet to be fully explored in this context is music. A number of studies now demonstrate that music a) elicits strong subjective feelings of emotion, b) activates limbic structures involved in emotion processing, and c) elicits physiological responses consistent with emotion. The aim of the current research project was to determine whether positive emotional arousal elicited by music could facilitate long-term declarative memory. Three experiments were conducted with a total of 127 participants ranging in age from 18 to 50 years (M = 28.10, SD = 10.05), 68% of which were female. Full exploration of the relationship between emotion elicited by music and non-music stimuli and memory was made possible with the use of a wide range of emotion measures and material to be remembered. The aims of Experiment 1 were to: a) replicate the emotion-enhanced memory effect reported by previous researchers using a three-phase slideshow paradigm; and b) determine whether the presentation of emotionally arousing background music further enhanced memory for the slideshow. The results revealed that relative to non-music and neutral music comparison conditions, the experimenter-selected music had no effect on emotional arousal, or on long-term declarative memory. Experiment 2 was designed to establish the emotion inducing properties of music with participant-selected positive and arousing music, and to determine whether emotion elicited in this way influenced memory. The results confirmed that participant-selected music elicited subjective and physiological arousal responses that were consistent with positive and arousing emotions, and that this music facilitated the early stages of long-term memory. Experiment 3 tested the memory modulating effect of positive and arousing music on memory consolidation by presenting music soon after learning. Results revealed that after controlling for high baseline arousal levels and memory ability, music modulated memory consolidation processes. However, music tended to have an impairing effect on memory in this experiment. Conclusions drawn from this project were that music has the capacity to elicit positive emotion, and that this music induced emotion has the potential to both enhance and impair long-term memory. The time of music presentation, and participants’ choice in music utilized, may determine the direction of this effect. These conclusions must, however, be accepted with caution given the low sample size for many of the statistical analyses. The major contribution of this research project is the methodological rigor applied to understanding the conditions under which emotion elicited by music influences memory. Future research investigating the influence of music on cognitive functioning can thus proceed from a stronger base of empirical evidence.


Principal supervisor

Nikki S. Rickard

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychology and Psychiatry

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences