If you listen to happy or peaceful music, you recall positive memories, whereas if you listen to emotionally scary or sad music, negative memories from your past may spring to mind, says a study.
The study, published in the journal Memory & Cognition, detailed how participants accessed autobiographical memories after listening to unknown pieces of music varying in intensity or emotional content.
The experiment, conducted by Signy Sheldon and Julia Donahue of McGill University in Canada, tested how musical retrieval cues that differ on two dimensions of emotion -- valence (positive and negative) and arousal (high and low) influence the way that people recall autobiographical memories.
A total of 48 participants had 30 seconds to listen to 32 newly composed piano pieces not known to them.
The pieces were grouped into four retrieval cues of music: happy (positive, high arousal), peaceful (positive, low arousal), scary (negative, high arousal) and sad (negative, low arousal).
Participants had to recall events in which they were personally involved, that were specific in place and time, and that lasted less than a day.
As soon as a memory came to mind, participants pressed a computer key and typed in their accessed memory.
The researchers noted how long it took participants to access a memory, how vivid it was, and the emotions associated with it.
The type of event coming to mind was also considered, and whether for instance it was quite unique or connected with an energetic or social setting.
Memories were found to be accessed most quickly based on musical cues that were highly arousing and positive in emotion, and could therefore be classified as happy.
A relationship between the type of musical cue and whether it triggered the remembrance of a positive or a negative memory was also noted.
The researchers found that happy or peaceful music helped the participants recall positive memories, while scary or sad music brought up negative memories to their minds.