Draft 1: Rock On! The Cognitive Effects of Music

This topic submitted by Sophia Turczynewycz, Eric McGary, Ashlae Shepler, Laura Fink, John Drain (sheplead@miamioh.edu) at 4:55 pm on 12/6/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins


Through this project we, the group, are looking at the effects that different types of music has on a individuals memory recall. We will be using different types of music ranging from Mozart, a very soft piece of music, to Squarepusher, a hard dramatic piece of music. Looking at various other studies done on this or related areas of science we have found sufficient data to back our hypothesis that memory recall is directly affected by different rhythmic patterns. The shorter the stimuli, beats within the song, and the slower the tempo, the greater the memory recall will be.


Our ability to recall external stimuli is an essential component for functioning in society. We depend on the vividness of our memories for everything that we experience. Even the most mundane aspects of our daily lives: our relationships with others, school performance, and remembering where we parked our car, all of these are dependent on the imprints left in our brain of sensory interpretations. What we observe through our senses becomes filtered through the brain through electochemical connections between brain cells that are quick to disappear. To spare these observations from oblivion we employ certain mnemonic devices, be it consious or unconscious, to resuscitate the fleeting memory.


Mnemonic devices are crucial in our communication with one another. For instance, to remember a phone number transmitted orally we often recite it several times in our head, a conscious process of regenerating the memory. This breed of mnemonic device is not exclusive to the auditory senses. To remember an image, such as a persons face, we revisualize patterns constructed from an unconscious internal repetition of that particular image. C.D. Woody, describing the nature of the mnemonic device in his book Memory, Learning, and Higher Function: A Cellular View , states, "The network operates through labeled interconnections linking specific elements within the network and through the mechanisms that underlie each element's adaptation. The adaptive features are crucial to learning and imply some associated, underlying mnemonic process." Thus, the ability to recall such patterns are aided greatly by subconscious associations of a multitude of seperate and distinct sensory inputs.
Given that associations of different impulses increase the rate of remembrance, we propose that coordinating music with information increases the probability that memories become triggered. By playing different types of rhythmic depiction, we aim to prove that songs with shorter, faster stimuli, played at a slower tempo will yield better memory recall. Data seems to reinforce this as, "Researchers found that inner city school children's reasoning skills that tested below the U.S. average doubled after listening to music" (prevention Magazine, Feb. 1994). Researcher Andrea R. Kilgour resrchered the idea that "pairing of melody with text should serve an even stronger organization role. Text paired with melody is better remembered than spoken text alone (Yalch 1991). Another experiment was placed to "determine what characteristics of a melody (if any) are critical for facilitating learning and recall of associated text,"; and found that "pairing melody and text did improve subjects" recall performance (Wallace 1994). "Music cannot be viewed as a single entity, however. There are many subdivisions within music, each with often drastically different tones and rhythms. We concur with Kristian David Olson, author of "The Effects of Music on the Mind," in her appraisal that the music, "needs to be implemented correctly... for if it isn't, it can be very distracting to the mind." This lab will explore the possibility that particular varieties of music are more conductive to aiding the acuity of ones memory than others. The music of Mozart for example, with it's sonorous and slow paced rhythmic structure, has been reputed to be exceptionally beneficial to enhancing cognitive abilities. Gordon Logan and Geoffrey L. Collier observed the effects of rhymic stimuli on memory through a series of experiments in "Modality Differences in Short-term Memory for Rhythms." A "good rhythm" is one that was found to be conducive to aiding the memory. They found that "multimodal patterns do not form good rhythms because they are not heard as single streams." We predict that subdued music with steady fluctuations of rhythm will yield more positive effects on ones cognitive ability than that of brash, highly fluctuating, "big beat" music.

Mozart Project18th Century Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Everyone listens to music. People listen to it as they drive on the highway, when they take a shower, when they wake up in the morning or when they go to bed at night. Music is an intergral part of our lives affecting anything from our moods to stress levels to motivations. For our project, being students ourselves, we wanted to look more closely at the effects of music on our study habits. With this information, two questions arise: what are the other effects of music in our lives and what else can enhance our study habits? These questions then lead to a much broader investigation into the function of the brain and how it receives and process information.
In an article titled, The Effects of Music on the Mind, author of Kristian David Olsen tells us that "listening to music as background can help when people when [sic] they're thinking, learning, or working..." and goes on to explain a study conducted with different types of music and how it affected medical performance. In another article, The Effects of Music Upon Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition , by Susan L. Medina, PhD, more studies were conducted dealing with the effects of music and the rate of learning in children.
Because music is such an integral part of our lives, studies are constantly being conducted to understand the ways music affects us. By interpreting the data from our study, as well as the data and results from previous studies, we will be able to see the effects music has on the human mind.

During the course of the lab a variety of materials will be used, including the following: Dr. Seuss's book Oh the Places You'll Go!, a CD player, a compilation of various songs, ranging from Mozart to Sqaurepusher, a stopwatch, and a testing group of 25 participants.

There are five researchers in our group. Each researcher will select 5 random participants to assist in our experiment, making a total of 25 participants. Over 6 consecutive days we will test these 25 participants in groups of five (each researcher having five participants per day) in hopes to prove our hypothesis. Each day we will ask each participant questions regarding how they feel that day. Questions like : “Do you feel focused today”, “Are you well rested?” ; “How do you feel in general(happy, stressed, relaxed, or tired)?”, “Did you eat before this experiment?”, “Do you remember information well?”, “Do you think you have a good memory?”
The setup for each day will consist of:
1. Asking the participant how he/ she feels.
2. He/ she will be given an assigned page from Dr. Seuss's, Oh, The Places We Will Go and asked to read and memorize the page.
Day 1 Picture

Day 2 Picture

Day 3 Picture

Day 4 Picture

Day 5 Picture

Day 6 Picture

3. The researcher will start the song for that day and the participant will have until they have the page memorized, both images and words.
4. Asking the participant of the previous day to recite the words he/ she memorized the day before and then also describe the picture that was on the page they memorized.
The first of the six days is the control day. It will follow the same setup as above except that there will be no music played. Instead, the participants will be timed with the stopwatch for approximately 4 minutes and asked to memorize in silence.
Each day the participants will be given a different page of the book to memorize in order to control the extent of which they can see and memorize that piece. But we stress that each day the literature is of the same book in order to maintain the same reading level and complexity. Also, each day there will be a different song played with different rhythm structure and intensity; fading from the music we believe will be the easiest to memorize in (Mozart) to the hardest music to memorize in (Squarepusher). The music schedule consists of:
Day 1: no music (control)
Day 2: Squarepusher
Day 3: REM
Day 4: Heart
Day 5: Miles Davis
Day 6: Mozart
We will grade our participants memory level on the percent of words he/ she memorized with that music and also on how well he/ she described the picture (none, little, most, or all). Each day we will consider the participants gender , general feeling of the day, and the time of day they were tested. In class, we will do a small trial run of our experiment and ask how they feel about how different music affects their ability to remember a couple pages. We will test them with Mozart and Squarepusher and two pages from the book and compare their results to see whether there is a difference between the two songs.
Time Line
Nov 11-Nov. 18: Testing of 25 participants

Nov. 27-Dec. 2: Analyze data

Nov. 27: Presentation to class

Dec. 4: Present results to class

Go see our data here!

Visit our Power Point here!


Throughout the testing of our experiment, we discovered many things. When the participants heard music that they were familiar with, they would become distracted and sing along to the song, or they would to their foot. If the participant was not familiar with the song, the reaction would be less noticeable. Females reacted more to Baracuda while males reacted more to Squarepusher. The upbeat sounds of R.E.M were found to be most distracting because the rhythmic sequence was found to be annoying to some while catchy to others. The fact that the words aren’t clear and precise draws some participants into figuring out what the song is saying.


Graph 1: Percent of Words Memorized vs. Sex

According to this graph, females had a higher rate of memorization than males. Looking at the p-value (.0001), it shows that females’ memory is significantly different than males. We therefore reject the null hypothesis.

Graph 2: Percent of Words Memorized vs. Music, split by sex

Comparatively among the females, the females performed better with the slower, soft music like Mozart and Miles Davis. Among the males, then, the males performed better with faster music like Squarepusher. As a whole, the females proved to memorized more words than the males no matter what music was played.

Graph 3: Percent of Words vs. Day

When the week started with no music, the percentage of recalled words was high (approximately 69%). As the days progressed, the number dropped reaching approximately 40% on day 4. On day 5 and day 6, the participants listened to Miles Davis and Mozart, which exist in much softer genres of music. Here, the percentage of words jumped from 40% to approximately 62% on day 5, and 50% on day 6. Therefore, the group concluded that the harder the music (music with faster tempos and shorter beats), the less percentage of words recalled.

Graph 4: Percent of Words vs. Mood

From looking at this graph, the group noticed surprisingly skewed results. We found that the higher the stress level, the higher percentage of words memorized. Oddly, the people in a happy mood had the worst results.

Graph 5: Percent of Words vs. Memory Index

According to this graph, primarily this graph proves that the more of the image one recalled the higher percentage of words was also recalled. As previously stated numerous times, the female test population recalled a higher percentage of words when a higher percentage of the image was recalled than did males.{Simply, gals do better than guys!!!}

Graph 6: Percent of Words vs. Duration, split by sex

The group concurred that the data in this graph shows that males took longer to memorize a page while the females not only memorized faster but also retained a higher percentage of words at the same time.

Discussion and Conclusion

A researcher, Andrea R. Kilgour, research the idea that pairing of melody with text should serve an even stronger organizational role. Text paired with melody is better remembered than text alone. Primarily basing our experiment on this idea, we gathered information that supports her hypothesis. After analyzing our data and comparing the results, we found that our hypothesis, which says that the lesser beats per minute and slower the tempo of music the higher memory recall will be, is proven true. This is shown in Graph 2: Percent of Words Memorized vs. Music. Although it is not significantly different, the graph shows the pattern that a lower percentage of words were memorized with the “harder” music, in other words, with the music with higher beats per minute and tempo. Interestingly, our data shows that the percent memorized by females is significantly different than the percent memorized by males—it shows that women remember more than men. As a result, this explains why women can remember birthdays and anniversaries better than men.

During experimentation, we asked the participants to say whether the music played was distracting or not. Most said that the songs with lyrics were more distracting than the songs without lyrics, saying that it took longer to concentrate or the words distracted because they knew the words. Some participants said that the song without lyrics, like Mozart, was relaxing and felt that it was not distracting. One tester asked a few participants to rate their performance and they thought they did better than they actually did.

Another researcher, Wallace, in his 1994 experiment on the effects of music and memory recall, found that melody (if any) is critical for facilitating learning and recall of associated text. He found that pairing melody and text did improve subjects’ recall performance. We also found this to be true through our experimentation.

Stemming from this idea, we also compared the number of words memorized and the image recalled and found that the higher percent of words memorized, the more of the image was remembered. It was found to be significantly different, and this information breeds more questions as to the link between textual and visual learning. Many other researchers have been looking into this same phenomenon.

After completing this experiment, further questions arose. We wondered what was the best kind of music to study with and what kind of music to listen to when we want to procrastinate. Another question is what causes our brains to remember some things better and why some people memorize better with different types of music than others. Most of all, the group wondered what other, if any, stimuli would enhance the recall ability of information, in other words, what would help us get an A on the final in the least amount of time?

Byrnes, James P. Minds, Brains, and Learning: Understanding the Psychological and Educational Relevance of Neuroscience and Educational Relevance of Neuroscience Research. Guilford; New York: 2001.
Collier, Geoffrey L. and Gordon Logan, "Modality differences in short-term memory for rhythms." Memory and Cognitions. Psychonomic Society, Inc., 2000.
David, Kristen Olson. The Effects of Music on the Mind.http://www.bobjanuary.com/musicmnd.htm. (October 3, 2001).
Goldensohn, Ellen. “Why Music?” Natural History. Vol. 110. 2001. P.8.
Hallam, Susan. "The Effects of Music on Individuals: overall trends." The Power of Music. http://www.thepowerofmusic.co.uk/individuals.htm. (October 3, 2001)
Medina, Susan L., Ph.D. The Effects of Music Upon Second Language Acquisition.http://www.geocities.com/ESLmusic/articles/print/article02.html. (October 3,2001)
Milius, Susan. “Face the Music.” Natural History. Vol. 110. 2001. Pgs. 48-57.
Suess, Dr. Oh, the Places You'll Go! Random: New York, 1990.
Sturiale, Nita. The Effects of Art Education on the Development of Cognitive Skills. http://www.artscience.org/nita/papers/brainpaper.html (October 3, 2001)
Thompson Forde, William, Laura-Lee Balkwill and Roxana Vernescu, "Expectancies generated by recent exposer to melodic sequences." Memory and Cognitions. Psychonomic Society, Inc., 2000.
Woody, C. D. Memory, Learning and Higher Function: A Cellular View. Springer-Verlag, New York: 1982

Photograph by: Henri Manuel; Akg Photo, "Face the Music"

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