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Face the Music


Music may help some people relax when they’re trying to concentrate. But it doesn’t help them remember, especially as they get older. That’s the finding of a study that challenged adults to listen to music while trying to remember names. College-aged participants had no problems; the music didn’t affect their performance.

But the older adults remembered 10 percent fewer names when listening to background music as compared to silence.

The study tested effects on associative memory, which includes the ability to put a face with a name and remember it. Study participants looked at a series of faces and names and were asked if the person “looked like” the assigned name. The faces were shown again a few minutes later, when participants had to determine whether the name and face combinations were the same as before. Sometimes people did the test in silence. Other times they listened to non-lyrical rock music.

“Both age groups agreed that the music was distracting, but only the older adults struggled while it was playing in the background,” said Sarah Reaves, the Georgia Tech psychology graduate student who led the study.

“Older adults have trouble ignoring irrelevant noises and concentrating,” explained Audrey Duarte, Reaves’ advisor and an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Psychology. “Associative memory also declines with age. As we get older, it’s harder to remember what name went with a face or where a conversation took place.”

The research was published in The Gerontologist Journal. — JASON MADERER

photo - woman wearing headphones

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