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Can Classical Music Improve Memory?

If you or anyone you knew had a baby around the 1990s, you surely heard someone talk about “The Mozart Effect.” This was the belief that, if you exposed your baby to classical music, it would boost their IQ and other aspects of cognitive development. 

It was so popular, many parents tried this in utero -- a pregnant woman would put headphones up to her belly so the unborn baby would hear it. 

As it turns out, the actual testing of this hypothesis has been scattered at best. We can’t conclude that playing classical music for very young babies has any bearings on their intelligence or cognitive abilities. 

However, that does not mean there isn’t a connection between music and the brain. 

Over the years, studies have found that classical music can be especially powerful at improving memory -- even in those with neurodegenerative memory issues. Some researchers believe this is because classical music helps to fire off synapses, which creates or re-energizes brain pathways previously left dormant. 

How is this possible? And what’s so special about classical music that it’s favorable to other types of music for memory performance? 

We actually aren’t completely sure, though there are plenty of theories. Some believe it’s the structure and slow tunes of most classical music that create a calming effect on the listener. 

That said, numerous studies have shown a strong connection between classical music and memory recall ability. One study, published in Learning and Individual Differences in 2012, placed students in two groups. Each group listened to one-hour lectures. One group had classical music playing in the background during the lecture, and the other heard no music. 

The students who heard classical music during their lecture scored significantly higher on a quiz about the lecture material than the students who didn’t hear any music. Researchers believe the music made students more receptive to the information, and thus more likely to retain it.

A Finnish study investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression of both musically experienced and inexperienced individuals. What they found was listening to the music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. 

And according to the researchers, “The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects."

Finally, a study out of Rome further supported the classical music theory: Researchers played classical music to young adults and elderly people. They found that classical music -- specifically, Mozart’s L’allegro con spirito induced positive changes in brain waves linked to memory, cognition and problem solving. Curiously, Beethoven’s Fur Elise failed to show any significant change, suggesting that not all classical music is created equal. 

I encourage you to experiment with classical music and see if it makes a noticeable difference in your memory recall ability. 

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Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki). "Listening to classical music modulates genes that are responsible for brain functions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 2015.,brain%20pathways%20previously%20left%20dormant.



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