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Music and the Effect it Has on Memory

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Understanding memory is important because ‘Memory is the means by which we draw on our past experiences in order to use this information in the present’ (Sternberg, 1999). Baddeley and Hitch (1974) talked about the working memory model. They believed that our short-term memory has many stores. One of them being the ability to understand information and finish work depending on the component of the working memory we are using. If we are using the same component for different types of activities at the same time, we might do them wrong inaccurate. However, if we used different components of the working store memory at the same time, we could finish our tasks accurately. The working memory has many components, the one that relates with music the most is the ‘phonological loop.’ This can be separated further into the articulatory central process and the phonological store. The articulatory process means that we can take in repetition items into the phonological store. The phonological store is where acoustic items are kept (speech-based sounds) for a small period. Listening to music that has lyrics in it may make it harder for someone to memorise something, and the information in front of them is less absorbed. Also, loud music can make it very difficult to focus on the tasks given. Many researchers have done studies to investigate this such as Bugter et all (2012), and Fassbender et al (2012).

A researcher that has looked at the impact of memory is Bugter et al (2012). This study aimed to replicate the Eskritt and Lee (2005) study and to investigate the effects of music on a test of spatial IQ. 60 college undergraduates (24 men and 36 women) took part in this study. The participants had an average age of 20.25. The participants were students from a small, private liberal arts university in the south. All students were given extra credit for taking part in the study. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups; each group had 20 participants. The first thing that was predicted is that there would be a difference between the three groups (classical, rap and silence), this was supported. The data showed significant differences between the groups. The second hypothesis predicted that classical music would have the best outcome during the memory task, this was also supported as the group exposed to classical music done better than the other groups. The results show that the group who was exposed to rap music didn’t score well on the memory test. The other group exposed to classical music seemed to have scored better. The researchers believe that the first group didn’t score well as rap music is more distracting as it also has lyrics in them. The results support the hypothesis with the classical; music being the most successful genre when learning. It was hypothesized before the experiment that there would be a difference in memory scores with the three types of situations: classical music, rap, and sitting in silences. The participants had to do a concentration game. This was confirmed by the results when the participants who listened to classical music got better results than those who listened to rap music.

Another researcher that investigated memory and music is Fassbender et al (2012). ‘The impact of music in memory.’ The aim was to find out if music can help memories for a different type of tests. Different type of students was asked to take part in this experiment, 75% were females between the ages 17-22. This experiment had 4 different types of tests that the participants had to take part in. In the first test (A) 50 syllables made no sense, the second test (B) there was another 50 syllables that made no sense, for the third test (C) there were 50 numbers in a random order, and for the fourth test (D) there were 12 lines of a poem in a different order. Test A participant was in the same class, it was completed in silence. For the next phase, the students were separated into three groups with the same questions as test A. Then participants had to do three different tests on memory, in the same classroom, but sitting at a different spot. The first group that took the test did not listen to any music, the second group listened to music that had lyrics in them, and the third group listened to relaxing music. Each group had the same amount of time (5 minutes) to memorise everything they did (test A, B, C) once the time was up, they had to write down everything that they remembered. The music was the same during the memorising stage and then repeated during the writing stage with the same volume levels and had headphones in. The results showed that there are no significant differences between the groups with relaxing music to the group who listened to music with lyrics in them. Trying to memorise lines that are not in the correct order whilst listening to music is less effective. Although memorising without any distractions is more effective, music is an effective way to increase someone’s mood, but when reading and memorising (numbers, lines, and poems) it is better not to listen to anything.

This experiment was necessary as the researcher made sure to include a variety age range, doing this by including teachers and students both male and female participants also took part. This allows more data to be collected, it makes it easier to generalise to the population. Unlike the other studies that focused on people of similar ages. The researcher wanted to find out if the results from these two studies would be replicated.

Design: The researcher did a lab experiment in a classroom. This has high ecological validity, since it was done in a classroom which the participants are familiar with, making the results more useful and the results can be applied to everyday life, it can also be replicated easier. By experimenting with this it meant that all the variables could be monitored closely. The independent variable for this experiment was the type of music playing. In the first condition, there was pop music playing, the researcher picked popular songs. In the second condition, there was classical music playing, and in the third and last condition, there was no music playing and the participants had to sit in silence. The dependent variables for this experiment were the number of questions that the participants answered correctly during the memory test. An extraneous variable for this is that the experiment was done at the end of the day, therefore meaning the participants could have been tired and this could have affected their performance. The researcher chose independent group design in their experiment, therefore it ensured that demand characteristics do not occur during the experiment, and order effects do not occur. The location for this experiment was the same for each condition.

Sample: In this experiment, the main target for this experiment was senior pupils in high school, all around the age of 1617. 3 teachers took part, the three teachers were divided into each group. In total there were 18 participants both male and female. 10 of these participants have previously done or currently doing higher psychology. 33% of the group were male and 67% were female. The participant was picked through opportunity sampling. This was done as opportunity sampling is the most effective. This was chosen because there is no specific gender, and background information was not specified.

Materials: Brief (Appendix 2), debrief (Appendix 3), consent form (1), laptop for YouTube clips, passage to study (4), question paper (5), pen or pencil.

Procedure: Before the experiment started the researcher divided the participants into 3 groups, there were 6 participants in each. There was the same number of teachers, males and females in each group, the number of males and females in each group was random. The researcher got the participants to read the brief first so that they were aware of the experiment, and what to expect. After all, participants read the brief, the researcher handed out consent forms for everyone to read and sign. This consent form had a box that the participants had to tick off to show that they were 16 . After this, the researcher then passed out the passage to the participants, every group had the same amount of time to learn a passage about the extinction of dinosaurs and what researchers believe happened. The groups all had 4 minutes to study the passage, once the time was up the participants then had 2 minutes to answer questions about the passage to see how much they could remember. When each group entered the classroom, they were told one person per desk, ensuring that they were not sitting next to someone and be influenced by their answers. During this experiment they were told to sit in silence, there was a possible 9 marks that the participant could achieve for the questions given. Once the time was up the researcher got the participants to read the debrief before leaving the experiment. Group A had to learn this passage whilst listening to popular music, group B had classical music on when learning the passage, and group C experimented with silence. Altogether there were 5 questions to answer at the end, worth 9 marks. At the end of the experiment, the experimenter explained to the group that the information would be collected to be analysed, and the participants were told throughout the experiment that all information given would be kept confidential.

Ethics: Any psychological research that was done has to follow BPS guidelines; this is done to protect the participants. There was no deception used as the true aim of the study was explained to the participants during the brief and the debrief, the researcher went over everything that was going to happen and answered any questions. Confidentiality was ensured as the experiment was conducted to make sure that there were no names, gender or age mentioned. Participants were made aware that they could withdraw at any time, and any work that was done would not be added to the results. The researcher made sure that there was no risk of any harm by ensuring that there was no deception, and the participants knew everything that was going on. The researcher ensured that everyone was at least 16, the consent form had a box that the participants had to tick off to show that they were 16 .

The range in this experiment was used to recognise the range of data collected from each condition. This helps show the researcher the highest or lowest score which will help determine the average result. The participants in the silence condition had a larger range of 7, suggesting that results in this condition varied, which may have had an impact on the mean scores.

The mean in this table helps the researcher to see the average score that participants got in their memory test, therefore making it easier later when the researcher is conducting a conclusion. For example, in the classical music condition, the mean was 5, suggesting that the results from this condition are not varied as most of the participants got similar results.

The mode in this table shows the researcher the most common scores from each condition. For example, in the Pop music condition, the most common score was 4. The mode is helpful for the researcher as they can see the most common answer that people got, and if the conditions made a difference for the overall score.

The median allows the researcher to see what the middle number is between a list of numbers. For example, the median for the silent condition was 5.

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This graph shows that 32.1% got an average score of 4 during the pop music condition, 30.6% also got an average score of 4 during the silence condition, and 37.3% got an average score of t during the classical music condition.

The researcher decided to make this graph to show frequent answers that the participants gave during the memory test. This type of graph is more effective to use as it clearly shows the conditions and the percentage.

The results from the study refute the hypothesis to an extent. As the hypothesis was to see if any music affects memory, and the results show that pop music has a negative effect, however, it was also concluded that sitting in silence had the worst impact.

Analysis: Overall the researcher concluded that the results from the study refute the hypothesis to an extent. It was stated that music could harm someone’s memory. However, this was not shown in the results. The condition that seemed to harm someone’s memory was when the participants were sitting in silence, this condition had the lowest score. The next condition that seemed to have a negative impact was popular music, this scored the second-lowest. Finally, for the classical music condition, the participants were the most successful with their task and got the highest mark.

There are a few variables that could have affected the results. For the popular music condition, some of the participants could have been used to studying music, therefore, explaining why some done better than others. For example, some people scored 7 whereas others didn’t do as well. Another variable that could have affected the results is during the silent condition a phone went off. This could have distracted the participants, therefore, explaining why this condition was the most unsuccessful. a final variable that could have affected the results is that the researcher did the experiments in the afternoon, 3 conditions took 10 minutes for each one, the silent condition was the last one to take place and could have been done poorly because it was done at the end of the day and the participants could have been tired and not performing as well as they could have. If repeating the experiment, the researcher would experiment earlier on in the day, instead of late in the afternoon. By changing the time could make the results more successful as participants won’t be as tired. To help improve the music condition the researcher would give out a survey on how people would normally study: with music, classical music and no music. Based on the results the researcher would then manage the groups, and make sure a participant who studies with music for example would not take part in the music condition but put them in the silent condition to see how that affects them. To make sure that there are no interruptions like the phone going off during the silence condition, for example, the researcher would make sure that all devices were switched off or silenced.

The researchers relate to one of the previous researchers, the Bugter et al 2012 study ‘The effects of music genre on a memory task’ the results show that the group who studied with classical music scored significantly better than those who did not listen to classical music. The other researcher Fassbender et al 2012 study ‘the impact of music on memory’ the results were not similar. The results showed that there are no significant differences between the groups with relaxing music to the group who listened to music with lyrics in them. A survey was done before the study and the results showed that 54% of the participants listen to music when studying, this could have affected the results because some people in the group already listen to music when studying so this would not have affected them.

The researcher’s results could be applied to the real world because the results show that classical music has a positive impact on someone when memorising so, if someone is stressed about a test, they could listen to classical music to help them.

More research could be done to better this experiment has the results did not fully meet the hypothesis.

Overall, from this experiment, the researcher learned that listening to classical music has the most successful results on someone’s memory. You can see this from the mode because the most frequent marks were from the classical condition, the results were between 5 and 6. The other condition that was still successful was the silence condition, where the frequent mark was 5, although this is not the same as the classical condition, the participants were more successful when in silence compared to participants with pop music. The mode shows that listening to pop music was not successful as the most frequent marks were 4, meaning it backs up the theory that music can harm someone’s memory. This partly backs up the hypothesis. The results for classical music may have been more successful as it is calming and may help participants to relax and not to stress out.

Evaluation: A strength of this experiment is that it has high ecological validity. This is because the researcher did a lab experiment in a classroom. This meant that the variables could be tightly controlled and monitored. Also, as it was done in a classroom the participants may have felt more comfortable as they were familiar with their surroundings, as they are in there most of the day.

A weakness of this experiment is that the participants knew each other meaning the participants could have felt more comfortable and making them not take the experiment seriously and mess about.

Another strength of this experiment is it is more varied. This is because the researcher included both male and female participants in this experiment. This means it is more representative of the population, and it can be generalised easier.

However, as the researcher asked classmates and friends to take part in the experiment, it could be argued that the participants could have been distracted as they knew the researcher.

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Music and the Effect it Has on Memory. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Music and the Effect it Has on Memory.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
Music and the Effect it Has on Memory. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Feb. 2023].
Music and the Effect it Has on Memory [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 3]. Available from:
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