Music is strongly intertwined with memories-for example, hearing a song from the past can transport you back in time, triggering the sights, sounds, and feelings of a specific event. This association between music and vivid autobiographical memory is intuitively apparent, but the idea that music is intimately tied with memories, seemingly more so than other potent memory cues (e.g., familiar faces), has not been empirically tested. Here, we compared memories evoked by music to those evoked by famous faces, predicting that music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) would be more vivid. Participants listened to 30 songs, viewed 30 faces, and reported on memories that were evoked. Memories were transcribed and coded for vividness as in Levine, B., Svoboda, E., Hay, J. F., Winocur, G., & Moscovitch, M. [2002. Aging and autobiographical memory: Dissociating episodic from semantic retrieval. Psychology and Aging, 17, 677-689]. In support of our hypothesis, MEAMs were more vivid than autobiographical memories evoked by faces. MEAMs contained a greater proportion of internal details and a greater number of perceptual details, while face-evoked memories contained a greater number of external details. Additionally, we identified sex differences in memory vividness: for both stimulus categories, women retrieved more vivid memories than men. The results show that music not only effectively evokes autobiographical memories, but that these memories are more vivid than those evoked by famous faces.
Keywords: Music; autobiographical memory; episodic memory; sex differences; vividness.