Why Do the Songs from Your Past Evoke Such Vivid Memories?

We all know the power of an old song to trigger vivid memories that seem to transport us back in time and space. What songs bring back emotional memories from your past? The songs we love become woven into a neural tapestry entwined with the people, seasons, and locations throughout our lifespan. What is the neuroscience behind the ability of music to evoke such strong memories of the people and places from our past?

Has a song on the car stereo, or in a store, recently caught you off guard and brought back a tidal wave of memories? Why do autobiographical memories linked to music remain so rich and textured? Interestingly, it appears that if you haven’t heard a song in years, the neural tapestry representing that song stays purer and the song will evoke stronger specific memories of a time and place from your past. The memories linked to overplayed songs can become diluted because the neural network is constantly being updated.

The Neuroscience of Vivid Musical Memories

A series of recent studies have found that listening to music engages broad neural networks in the brain, including brain regions responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity.

In the first study of its kind, Amee Baird and Séverine Samson, from University of Newcastle in Australia, used popular music to help severely brain-injured patients recall personal memories. Their pioneering research was published on December 10, 2013 in the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

Although their study only involved a small number of participants, it is the first to examine ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with acquired brain injuries (ABIs), rather than those who are healthy or suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

In their study, Baird and Samson played snippets from “Billboard Hot 100” number-one songs in a random order to people with ABI. The songs—taken from the whole of the patient’s lifespan from age five—were also played to control subjects with no brain injury. All participants were asked to record how familiar they were with a given song, whether they liked it, and what memories the song evoked.

Interestingly, the highest number of MEAMs in the whole group was recorded by one of the ABI patients. In all those studied, the majority of MEAMs were of a person, people or a life period, and were typically positive. Songs that evoked a memory were noted as being more familiar and more well liked than songs that did not trigger a MEAM. This is common sense.

Two previous studies identified the broad range of neural networks that are engaged when we listen to music. A 2009 study from the University of California, Davis mapped the brain while people listened to music and found specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memories and emotions are activated by familiar music. The UC Davis study titled, “The Neural Architecture of Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories,” was published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

The discovery may help to explain why music can elicit strong responses from people with Alzheimer’s disease, said the study’s author, Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain. The hub that music activated is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region—right behind the forehead—and one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

"What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head. It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye," Janata said. "Now we can see the association between those two things—the music and the memories."

To assure the best chance that students would associate at least some of the tunes with memories from their past, Janata also chose songs randomly from “Billboard Hot 100” charts from years when each subject would have been 8 to 18 years old. After each excerpt, the student responded to questions about the tune, including whether it was familiar or not, how enjoyable it was, and whether it was associated with any particular incident, episode or memory.

The study revealed that, on average, a student recognized about 17 of the 30 excerpts, and of these, about 13 were moderately or strongly associated with an autobiographical memory. As in the recent Australian study, songs that were linked to the strongest, most salient memories were the ones that evoked the most vivid and emotion-laden responses.

When Janata studied the fMRI images and compared them to these self-reported reactions, he discovered that the degree of salience of the memory corresponded to the amount of activity in the upper (dorsal) part of the medial prefrontal cortex. This correlation supports Janata’s hypothesis that this brain region helps link music and memory.

Janata was also able to create a model for mapping the tones of a piece of music as it moves from chord to chord and into and out of major and minor keys. By making tonal maps of each musical excerpt and comparing them to their corresponding brain scans, he discovered that the brain was tracking these tonal progressions in the same region as it was experiencing the memories: in the dorsal part of the medial prefrontal cortex, as well as in regions immediately adjacent to it. And in this case, too, the stronger the autobiographical memory, the greater the “tracking” activity.

Music Engages Brain Regions Linked to Motor Actions, Emotions, and Creativity

In a 2011 study, Finnish researchers used a groundbreaking method that allowed them to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, such as rhythm, tonality and timbre (sound color) in a realistic listening situation. Their study was published in the journal NeuroImage.

The researchers discovered that listening to music activates wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity. Their method of mapping revealed complex dynamics of brain networks and the way music affects us. For this study participants were scanned with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while listening to a stimulus with a rich musical structure, a modern Argentinian tango.

The Finnish researchers correlated temporal evolutions of timbral, tonal, and rhythmic features of musical stimulus. While timbral feature processing was associated with activations in cognitive areas of the cerebellum, and sensory and the default mode network gray matter of the cerebral hemispheres, musical pulse and tonality processing recruited cortical and subcortical cognitive, motor and emotion-related circuits.

The researchers found that music listening recruits the auditory areas of the brain, but also employs large-scale neural networks. For instance, they discovered that the processing of musical pulse recruits motor areas in the cerebellum and cerebrum, supporting the idea that music and movement are closely intertwined.

Limbic areas of the brain, known to be associated with emotions, were also found to be involved in rhythm and tonality processing. Processing of timbre was associated with activations in the so-called default mode network, which is assumed to be associated with mindwandering and creativity.

"Our results show for the first time how different musical features activate emotional, motor and creative areas of the brain," concluded Professor Petri Toiviainen from the University of Jyväskylä. "We believe that our method provides more reliable knowledge about music processing in the brain than the more conventional methods."

Image2: Music lights up the entire brain.


Hate this lmao. I can hear his voice in his texts. The cute way his voice would prolong, because well…he can hear my voice in my texts too. Shit i can’t wait until the next time we see each other. I’m still feeling the butterflies i felt when I saw him for the first time 9 months ago. I haven’t smiled like this in a while.


Hate this lmao. I can hear his voice in his texts. The cute way his voice would prolong, because well…he can hear my voice in my texts too. Shit i can’t wait until the next time we see each other. I’m still feeling the butterflies i felt when I saw him for the first time 9 months ago. I haven’t smiled like this in a while.



The prompt was “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?”

The earth spins at approximately 1,000 miles per hour, and rotates around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. In the words of Ferris…



What Is Aphasia? What Causes Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder that negatively affects a person’s ability to talk, understand the spoken word and also their reading and writing. Originating from the Greek word "aphatos" which means speechless, aphasia is a symptom resultant of pre-existing brain damage, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke (with over 30% of stroke victims suffering aphasia to some degree). 

Originally, aphasia was a term used only to describe complete impairment of the person’s communication and language. At the time the term dysphasia was used to describe partial language impairment, but it has been frequently mistaken for a swallowing disorder, dysphagia. Because of this, the term aphasia has taken on the meaning of both degrees of language impairment.

As there are three types of aphasia, the symptoms can differ for each type. Details of these differences are:

  • Global aphasia - All parts of vocal and written interaction are affected. Both writing and reading is impaired, as well as speech and listening.
  • Fluent aphasia - Speech is hard/not possible to understand. The ability to speak is not impaired, but the words spoken make no sense (word salad). Writing ability is usually effected in the same way, the writing is flowing but what is actually written is nonsense.

    The person suffering from fluent aphasia may become annoyed and irritated if someone has trouble understanding them as they don’t always realize they have a language disorder. As for understanding, people with fluent aphasia more commonly have problems with speech than writing.
  • Non-fluent aphasia - With this type, speech is slower and hesitant, the patient also struggles to get their words out. Sentences are rarely completed, and even though some words are missing, what they are saying can be made sense of. Again writing ability is usually the same as speech but comprehension is good. 

    Someone with non-fluent aphasia has more problems with grammar than words alone. People with this kind of aphasia are more aware of their disorder and may get annoyed when they struggle with words.

What Causes Aphasia?

The part of the brain that controls speech and language recognition is referred to as the language center. It is normally in the part of the brain opposite to side of the hand you write with (e.g. left side of brain for the right handed). These parts of the brain are known asBroca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Aphasia is caused when any of these parts of the brain or the neural pathways connecting them are damaged. This can be a result of the following:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Migraine
  • Brain tumor
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s

The type of aphasia is dependent on which part of the brain is damaged. The causes of each type of aphasia are:

  • Global aphasia - caused by widespread damage right through the language center.
  • Fluent aphasia - usually caused by damage to the temporal lobe (side of brain).
  • Non-fluent aphasia - mostly the result of frontal lobe (front of brain) damage.
Disorders Confused with Aphasia:

A variety of other communication disorders may accompany aphasia or occur independently, yet be confused with aphasia. It is important to recognize these disorders and distinguish them from aphasia, as treatments and prognoses may vary.


With dysarthria, a person is unable to produce speech accurately due either to weakness of the muscles involved in speaking or a lack of coordination among these muscles. Dysarthria affects the production, not language itself — which distinguishes it from aphasia.

Dysarthria affects children and adults, with causes including stroke, head injury, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.


For a person with dysphagia, swallowing is difficult and may cause pain, sometimes making it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body. It occurs most often in the elderly as the result of conditions like Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, stroke, head injury, or cancer.


Dementia is a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Some forms of dementia are progressive, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Because language difficulties are often prominent in dementia, it is often confused with aphasia. But the language difficulties in dementia are usually just one symptom of a more widespread intellectual loss.

Sources: 1 & 2



Renovation of an Arab Tower Iñaqui Carnicero Architecture Office

Located in Riba de Saelices, Guadalajara, the site sits on top of the highest hill of the surroundings, originally serving as a defensive point where the Arabs could have an advantage over their enemies.
The project consisted of a modest architectural intervention that restored the semi-destroyed tower to its original volume. Rebuilding the stones back into their original position, the tower can be contemplated again as an object in the landscape.