Musical Time Travel

by Alessandra Cavalluzzi

You know that feeling you get when you hear a song that reminds you of a special time or a particular person from your past?  This happened to me yesterday as I was driving in my car.  I was listening to Sirius XM’s “80s on 8” and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face” came on the radio.  Immediately I was taken back to the summer of 1984 and a club in Italy called Rainbow, where I spent many a Saturday night that summer.   “Eyes Without a Face” was always the first song the DJ started his set with.   Lots of laughs and good times were had in that club. Those summers I spent in Italy were some of the best years of my young adult life.  I made many friends, and connections that still endure some three decades later.   Every time I hear this song it’s as if I’m back at that club. 

It makes me smile every time.

How is it possible for a song to open floodgates of emotion and memories (both happy and sad)?   Is it random, or is there a science behind it? 

You’ll be happy to know it’s not random and there is actually a science to it – neuroscience.  

A study conducted in 2009 from the University of California, Davis mapped the brain while subjects listened to music.  What the study found was that specific brain regions linked to autobiographical memories (memories of specific personal events) 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.

A Finnish study conducted in 2011 actually used MRI technology to observe the brain’s functions while participants listened to music.  What the study revealed was that music stimulates the areas of the brain that are associated with motor functions, emotions and creativity.

In December of 2013, the journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation published a study conducted by Amee Baird and Séverine Samson, from the University of Newcastle in Australia.  Baird and Samson used popular music to help patients who had suffered severe brain injuries to recall personal memories. 

Music can help with memory recall, it can evoke strong emotions and can stimulate our creativity. In short, music is powerful.

For more on the studies mentioned here and other fascinating facts about the effects of music on the brain, click here.

In the meantime, here’s Billy and “Eyes Without a Face”.

Keep smiling and remember:

La vita e’ bella!

Life is beautiful!

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