Music, Memory, and Emotions

Music is a large part of our daily lives. Entire television shows are dedicated to finding new musical artists. Musical enhancement is added to movies, commercials and social settings. The sounds we enjoy change throughout our lives. The music of our youth, however, sticks with us for life. There are significant connections between music, memory, and emotions.


Important memories are often triggered by familiar songs. The teenage years, especially, tend to elicit strong emotions and connections to certain musical styles. This has to do with your prefrontal cortex. This part of your brain is linked to relationships and memories. The high drama of adolescence coupled with the effect of music on the brain forms a strong bond with the music you are exposed to. It is not a coincidence that a certain song remains a favorite when you experience an emotion such as sadness. The neural connections formed during this time are sealed into our brains once adulthood is reached.  Music has a way of taking you back in time.

Feeling Good

Songs that bring feelings of contentment trigger the brain to release chemicals that are linked to happiness. The sudden release of serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine offer a temporary high. Love is one of the other few things that bring on this response from the brain. The feeling brought on by this phenomenon is also similar to how the brain reacts to drugs. Music is an excellent escape from daily stress.


Music is often representative of different social groups. Young people, especially, form a lot of their identity by participating in specific groups in school. The formative years during puberty and the early twenties are associated with self-awareness and changes. As young people learn

about themselves and pursue new interests they make lasting memories. Many memories of this time period involve music. School dances, popular movies, and dates all become associated with the music that carried us through.

The Link

Songs become linked to memories, making them even stronger. Things like holding hands with a first crush and high school graduation may be accompanied by a song playing in the background. The neurological link formed allows you to feel like you are in the moment when you hear that song again. Music strengthens memories and makes them more accessible. Due to this, youthful memories are often remembered far into the elderly years.


Memories bring emotions with them in many cases. A song played at a loved one’s funeral is capable of bring tears when heard years later. A song associated with a best friend can bring contentment. Other songs bring emotional responses due to the nature of their composition and lyrics. Upbeat songs bring the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. The potential of fast songs to get people moving adds to the euphoria.  A sad song may trigger tears, as it subconsciously makes its way into your head. Music is an emotional language that can be understood across cultures, even when words are not understood.

Music is often the most memorable part of the teenage and young adult years. Everything during these life stages is affected by extensive hormone production and heightened brain activity. These differences, coupled with major life events, form a recipe for strengthened attachments to people and experiences. Music adds personality and beauty to important memories. The feel-good chemicals in the brain produce the same reaction years later when confronted with the songs of the past. Treat yourself to some old favorites to experience trip back to your childhood.

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