Music Mends Memories in the Injured Brain

Psychology of Music and Healing Effects of the Human Brain

I was recently included on an album of positive music ( I was speaking on the importance of positive music, lyrics in particular, as a critical means to offset the natural negativity bias of the human mind. The negative is more powerful than the positive by a factor of 3 to 1. Honestly, I’m pretty excited about this. I never dreamt I would be on an album. Of course, I’m speaking not singing. I can’t sing to save my life. And music has always been a passion of mine. I use it to connect with teenage clients. I use it as a healthy ‘drug’ to alter my moods, thoughts and to call up memories.

Today, a new study came out demonstrating, once again, the power of music. In a novel study,  Amee Baird and Séverine Samson used top 40 music to spark lost memories in individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI).

While the sample size is small, this is the very first study to look at the effectiveness of ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with ABIs, rather than ‘normals’ or those who grapple with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Baird and Samson played pieces of Billboard’s number 1 songs to five patients in random order.  The songs were pulled from across the lifespan of each patient starting from the year they were five years old and continuing to present day.  The performance of those with ABI was compared to individuals with no brain injury. All participants reported to what extent they knew a given song, the extent to which they liked it, and what memories, if any, the song brought up.

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Music Heals the Mind and Memories


Results showed that the number of recorded MEAMs was nearly identical for ABI patients (38%-71%) and ‘normals’ (48%-71%). Only one of the five ABI patients recorded no music assisted memories. Surprisingly, the highest frequency of MEAMs out of all the participants was recorded by an ABI patients.

Across all participants, the majority of music assisted memories were of people or a life event and were most fequently positive in nature. There was a strong connection between songs that sparked a memory and reported familiarity and enjoyment of those same songs.

While the sample size was small, early indicators seem to show the strength of using music as a tool for helping patients reclaim recollections. Baird and Samson state 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.”


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Music therapy – healing the mind one song at a time

“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.”

As we learn more and more about the power of music, one thing seems clear…there exists a powerful relationship between attention, mood, memory, and music. We are beginning to understand the direct relationship between attention and emotion.


What we attend to affects what we feel.

How we feel influences that to which we pay attention.

How we feel impacts our memories.

What we recall affects the degree to which we judge life as satisfying.


Music powerfully influences our attention, our memory, as well as emotion. It may even impact our self-worth and our judgments of how satisfying life is. These all seem to be inextricably intertwined.  So pay attention to what music you use to fill your head. It may have a larger impact than you ever dreamed!


To life, love and good music!

Dr. John Schinnerer

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Specialist

Award-winning author of Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion & Thought

Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

Positive psychology blog: 

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Twitter: @johnschin


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Baird, S. Samson. Music evoked autobiographical memory after severe acquired brain injury: Preliminary findings from a case series. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2013.858642


Taylor & Francis (2013, December 10). Music brings memories back to the injured brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from­ /releases/2013/12/131210072030.htm