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REPORT | Researchers Study The Benefits Of Musical Nostalgia

By Anya Wassenberg on December 19, 2022

Image by Gerhard Bögner (CC0/Pixabay)
Image by Gerhard Bögner (CC0/Pixabay)

Nostalgia for music of the past is something that’s often made fun of or outright derided. But, as a study from the UK points out, that nostalgia has a positive side.

Researchers at three British universities looked at the links between music, memory and nostalgia, analyzing and referencing the results of more than 140 original research studies.

Music is one of the strongest elements associated with memory.

  • Specific pieces of music can spark similarly specific memories;
  • Music aids the brain in processing memories that become our internal autobiography;
  • Even patients with various cognitive impairments can still remember when the memory is associated with music.

It’s part of our implicit system of memories, which operate largely in the unconscious mind.

What’s so great about nostalgia?

The music we hear while we’re young shapes our lifelong musical tastes. The researchers note that when music evokes a sense of nostalgia, it can have varied benefits.

  • It connects us with others who feel the same;
  • It makes us feel more youthful and optimistic.

It also affects something they call “existential domain” — or strengthening the feeling of finding meaning in life, and a sense of continuity.

Listening to favourite songs that remind us of happier times in the past, which can act as a buffer when dealing with sadness and other difficult conditions in the present.

The report’s authors also underscore the value of musical nostalgia when working with people with dementia. While dementia affects the ability to recall autobiographical memories, it turns out the area of the brain responsible for linking music and memory is relatively unaffected by the condition.

The way we respond is emotional, and the report points out it also depends on how much any individual is attached to nostalgic memories. Notably, nostalgia can even be evoked by music that suggests a time in the past via style and sound — even if the subject is unfamiliar with the specific piece.

More study will look into the music/memory link to probe the potential psychological benefits in therapy.


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