Date of Thesis



Music is a universal phenomenon that reaches people of all ages. However, new music is notoriously difficult for people to learn and recognize. Some studies have shown that new items are remembered better when paired with a second piece of information, particularly if it is emotional in content. I investigated whether unfamiliar music recognition would be differentially improved by pairing unfamiliar tunes with positive versus negative descriptive emotional sentences. I also examined whether younger and older adults process these tunes or pairings differently, particularly examining the influence of emotional descriptors on tune memory. Finally, I investigated how mode and congruency with associated materials can influence tune memory. Some psychological studies suggest that as we age, we experience a positivity effect in which negative items lose their salience and positive items gain salience, and inherent memorability. However, this effect is not consistently shown and may only be specific to certain domains, with music excluded. Overall, my first study, which tested implicit tune memory, did not yield significant effects of emotion. This led me to develop and conduct my second study in which I explicitly told participants to remember the tunes. At the conclusion of this study, I still did not find a beneficial effect of emotion. Both studies showed a better performance in the younger adults compared to the older adults, and overall better performance when given two presentations of the material versus one. My last study focused on the memorability of tunes in major mode versus minor tunes. Major tunes tend to convey a happy or positive sentiment, while minor tunes generally convey a sad or negative sentiment. I also investigated how memorable these tunes were when paired with an emotional statement that either matches or is in contrast to the musical mood. Participants had a better memory for major tunes compared to minor tunes, and showed a trend of remembering emotionally-mismatched tunes over emotionally-matched tunes. Participants also had a better memory for tunes paired with a neutral descriptor, over an emotional descriptor, indicating that emotion is not always so beneficial in memory.


Music, Cognition, Aging, Memory, Perceived emotion

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science



First Advisor

Andrea Halpern