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Characterisation of music-evoked autobiographical memories

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Despite music's prominence in Western society and its importance to individuals in their daily lives, very little is known about the memories and emotions that are often evoked when hearing a piece of music from one's past. We examined the content of music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) using a novel approach for selecting stimuli from a large corpus of popular music, in both laboratory and online settings. A set of questionnaires probed the cognitive and affective properties of the evoked memories. On average, 30% of the song presentations evoked autobiographical memories, and the majority of songs also evoked various emotions, primarily positive, that were often felt strongly. The third most common emotion was nostalgia. Analyses of written memory reports found both general and specific levels of autobiographical knowledge to be represented, and several social and situational contexts for memory formation were common across many memories. The findings indicate that excerpts of popular music serve as potent stimuli for studying the structure of autobiographical memories.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Davis, CA, USA

Publication date: November 1, 2007

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