Research finds music brings back memories to severely brain-injured patients


In preliminary findings from a case series, published recently in open access Neuropsychological Rehabilitation journal, researchers Amee Baird and Séverine Samson report they have found that playing popular music can help severely brain-injured patients recall personal memories.

Their research is the first to examine "music-evoked autobiographical memories" (MEAMs) in patients with acquired brain injuries (ABI). The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories, and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception.

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.

Analysis of written memory reports found that the most common situations associated with MEAMs was “dancing” or “driving a car,” and the most common social reference was “friends,” followed by “girl/boyfriends.”

"In conclusion, this case series is the first study to demonstrate MEAMs in patients with severe ABI. The findings contribute to the currently limited knowledge about the use of music in cognitive, in particular memory, rehabilitation in individuals with ABI.

Given the limitations of a small case series, we hope that this study promotes others to undertake clinical research on this novel topic as larger group studies of this phenomenon are required to examine the utility of MEAMs in ABI populations.

In addition, further studies in both healthy and neurological populations are needed to investigate the relationship between memory for music and non-music domains and other cognitive functions, and the relationship between emotion and memory in order to understand the mechanisms underlying the unique memory enhancing effect of music."

Find the full article on the case series here:

Featured image: Summer Memories – Hilton Head Island, SC by

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  1. True even without brain injury, at least for me. But I think it varies with every person. One person may love this particular song and associates it with happy memory, but the same song could also bring emotional breakdown to another person.

  2. With all due respects to the researchers and to the clients involved in the study, this finding is nothing new.
    Persons also living with Alzheimer’s and other neurological changes can have memories revived of pleasant experiences and people through music to aid in the generation or triggering known experiences, recognition of recent personal knowledge and experiences to effect potential 'healing' by degrees.
    'By association', music can trigger emotions (impact and pleasure) and the experiences of the senses from past experiences. Pleasant experiences (and even painful ones) can be 'locked' in the psychy. Unlocking the more pleasant ones for 'healing' in some cases, and sometimes the unpleasant ones (in some cases for specific reasons) can help one rebuild and expand on the 'knowledge' required for growth or awareness.
    The expressions of emotion, combined with the physical movement associated with appreciating or being offered music pieces to relate to, is a primal part of human nature.
    All forms of music can elicit all sorts of feelings in a person – from remembering past happenings or associations with eclectic mixtures of events.

    Therefore, all of what the researchers have 'discovered' in there findings is interesting and maybe the first as a study of its kind, but the knowledge acquired is not new.
    The use, either deliberate or accidental, of music to evoke memories and emotion etc., is eons old.
    Kind regards, Louise

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