Music-Evoked Autobiographical Memories are Associated with Negative Affect in Younger and Older Adults

Kendra Mehl, Alaine E Reschke-Hernandez, Julien Hanson, Lauren Linhardt, Jessica Frame, Matthew Dew, Elizabeth Kickbusch, Chase Johnson, Elena Bai, Amy M Belfi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Music evokes strong and persistent emotional responses. However, the mechanisms underlying the emotional effects of music, particularly in older adults, are largely unknown. One purported mechanism by which music evokes emotions is through memory - that is, music evokes personal, autobiographical memories that then lead to emotional responses.

METHOD: Here, we investigated whether memory-evoking music induces stronger and longer-lasting emotional responses than non-memory-evoking music, and whether these emotional responses differ between younger and older adults. Older (N = 30) and younger adults (N =30) listened to two blocks of self-selected music (one block of memory-evoking music and one block of familiar but non-memory-evoking music). Participants reported their emotions prior to and at three timepoints post-listening.

RESULTS: Older adults reported higher levels of positive affect than younger adults. For both groups, positive affect increased after listening to both memory-evoking and non-memory-evoking music. However, negative affect only increased after listening to memory-evoking music.

CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that both memory-evoking and non-memory-evoking music generate strong emotions in younger and older adults, but music that conjures personal memories is more likely to elicit mixed emotions. Our results have important clinical implications when designing music-based interventions for mood and affect, particularly in older adult populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalExperimental Aging Research
StateE-pub ahead of print - Jan 13 2024


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