After a serious head injury (wear a helmet, kids!) some patients can have difficulty recalling even autobiographical memories. In many rehab facilities, therapists use an Autobiographical Memory Interview to help patients recall their past. It includes questions like, "Who were some of your friends when you were in grade school?" The study that follows played hit songs from the patients' pasts and then asked them if those songs brought back any memories.
Baird and Samson played extracts from 'Billboard Hot 100' number-one songs in random order to five patients. The songs, taken from the whole of the patient's lifespan from age five, were also played to five control subjects with no brain injury. All were asked to record how familiar they were with a given song, whether they liked it, and what memories it invoked.
Doctors Baird and Samson found that the frequency of recorded MEAMs was similar for patients (38%-71%) and controls (48%-71%). Only one of the four ABI ["acquired brain injury"] patients recorded no MEAMs. In fact, the highest number of MEAMs in the whole group was recorded by one of the ABI patients. In all those studied, the majority of MEAMs were of a person, people or a life period and were typically positive. Songs that evoked a memory were noted as more familiar and more liked than those that did not.
As a potential tool for helping patients regain their memories, Baird and Samson conclude that: "Music was more efficient at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts of the Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI) across each life period, with a higher percentage of MEAMs for each life period compared with AMI scores."Notice that the study included only FOUR patients with brain injury, and for ONE of them, the music technique didn't work at all. Just goes to show that even in scientific publishing, if you've got a hot hook, you don't need much else.
It interesting to think about what music was playing on the car radio when you were 5, 10, 15, and 20 years old, and what impact those songs might still have on you today. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of the songs I have posted to this blog, as well as the one that I had been planning to post on Saturday, were hits when I was between 4 and 5 years old.
Here's the link to the Billboard Hot 100 archive, in case you want to play this game.