Ever heard a song that you haven’t in years, but remember every word? Ever read your favorite book over and over, but you noticed new things in it every time? It’s interesting how that works. Books and songs are somewhat of apples and oranges, but chances are you don’t remember every single detail of a book, short or long, like you might naturally remember all the words to a song that you may not have even liked that much. It just played, over and over, in the background. I’ll never forget the words to “Ice, Ice, Baby.”

That’s what’s interesting about our memories. A story could be so intriguing, but we don’t exactly remember it word for word. A song could, for the lack of a better word, suck….and we remember the whole thing. When we completed the phonological loop lab assignment, I was pretty intrigued. Songs use rhyming a lot, as does poetry, which I believe helps us to remember it, along with the music behind it. However, I had such a hard time recalling a sequence of letters that had phonological similarity. As we learned in that lesson, I could often remember the first and last. However, it took a lot of focus to correctly recite sequences such as B, C, P, D, E, Z, T. After a while, with more and more trials, all I could hear myself recalling sometimes was E, E, E….. I’d begin to say the letters out loud out of habit, in an attempt to memorize the sequence, quickly remembering that I wasn’t supposed to do that! But that brought my attention to an interesting point; why are things easier to recall when we say them aloud? Why is hearing so helpful to remembering?

This could explain why staring at textbooks for hours sometimes doesn’t always yield the best test results (for me at least), and why studying with other people and talking about the subject matter could be helpful. Perhaps it’s why songs are easier to recall, even years later. The Phonological loop is fascinating, and it seems pretty obvious. However, when we start to ask why, it starts to get interesting. As I mentioned earlier, the phonological similarity effect happens even when there is no auditory input, such as reading items silently to ourselves. It’s been suggested that this is evidence that we actually recode information. If we only used our eyes, and didn’t remember sounds, we would probably confuse letters that simply look similar, such as E and F, and not just sound similar. This idea was created by Baddeley and his concept of a phonological loop in 1986. Its two components, the phonological store and articulatory control process, are part of our working memory. The phonological store is responsible for taking visual information and turning it into auditory stores.

To me, this makes a lot of sense. When we look at anything at all, we identify whatever “it” is with a word, right? Well, a word has to sound like something. If we never learned what words sounded like, text would be meaningless. So, just like remembering a song, I believe that we are extremely good at remembering sounds. Hearing is a sense just as well as sight; however, when it comes to memory, the two seem to have very different and complex purposes. We don’t remember what happened in our favorite books because the text was intriguing. However, we do remember songs, even ones we don’t find intriguing or pleasing at all. We also remember sentences rather than random clusters of words because we’re used to hearing words together in a specific format. This suggests that our auditory storage is pretty fine-tuned!






1 thought on “Hearsay

  1. Courtney Elizabeth Sylvester

    What an excellent connection you’ve made between remembering words in a book versus lyrics to a song! As you mentioned, short-term memory primarily encodes information in the auditory format although long-term memory prefers to store it in semantic forms (PSU WC, L6, p. 5; Goldstein, 2011, p. 153-154). Put another way, you’re right in that song lyrics use the phonological loop and are likely encoded in long-term memory in the same way.

    But maybe memory for song lyrics is also strong due to retrieval cues. When we hear a song, we relate its lyrics to the accompanying music, so melody, lyrics, and song title each act as retrieval cues for the others (Peynircioglu, Rabinovitz, & Thompson, 2008). Music is also multimodal in that it has temporal elements and can often be associated with emotional memories or experiences (Stevens, 2015). This link to experiences may explain why our memory for music demonstrates the reminiscence bump during adolescence and young adulthood, as it may evoke personal memories from that time (Goldstein, 2011, p. 205-207; as cited in Stevens, 2015, p. 264-265). Much like other memories, our recall of music decays over time. The recall of songs that were popular during adolescence was worse for older adults than for college students, and both performed about as well for songs as they did for their classmates’ faces (Schulkind, 2009, p. 217-219). These studies suggest that music is not processed differently than other kinds of stimuli, but it may be remembered differently (Schulkind, 2009, p. 223). Indeed, dementia patients recall better with music for semantic memories from their past, including things like the price of a gallon of milk (Schulkind, 2009, p. 219-220). The music didn’t transport them back in time, but it did serve as a retrieval cue that helped the patients access otherwise lost information.


    Goldstein, E.B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

    Peynircioglu, Z.F., Rabinovitz, B.E., & Thompson, J.L.W. (2008). Memory and metamemory for songs: The relative effectiveness of titles, lyrics, and melodies as cues for each other. Psychology of music, 36.1, p. 47-61. Retrieved from http://pom.sagepub.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/content/36/1/47.full.pdf+html

    PSU WC. (n.d.). Lesson 6: Long-term memory: Structure. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa15/psych256/001/content/07_lesson/printlesson.html

    Schulkind, M.D. (2009). Is memory for music special? The neurosciences and music III–Disorders and plasticity, 1169, 216-224. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04546.x

    Stevens, C.J. (2015). Is memory for music special? Memory Studies, 8.3, 263-266. Retrieved from http://mss.sagepub.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/content/8/3/263

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