PEI

Name that tune: UPEI student researching how well we recall music

A psychology student at UPEI is focusing her research on how well people of different ages recognize popular music through the decades.

Breea MacLean looking for volunteers in the 41 to 56 age range

Psychology student Breea MacLean is studying how well people of different ages remember popular music through the decades. (Angela Walker/CBC)

From The Beatles to the Bee Gees to Beyoncé — how well do you know popular music through the years? A psychology student at UPEI is focusing her research on how well people of different ages recognize popular music through the decades.

Breea MacLean's thesis looks at music memory in two generations.

"I'm basically trying to find out the differences between memory recall for popular music between young adults and middle aged adults," MacLean said.

For her study, she's testing two groups — those aged 17 to 24, as well at people aged 41 to 56.

Love of music

MacLean has a lifelong love of music, and said she wanted to focus her research in that area. It was after she met with UPEI professor Annabel Cohen — who focuses on music cognition — that she decided exactly what she would focus on.

"She suggested to continue a study based on music memory that one of her previous students had done the year before. So I knew that that's what I was going to do, and it would be a perfect fit for me," MacLean said.

You're better to recall the music that you heard in those important memories, [as] opposed to just random stuff on the radio.— Breea MacLean

During her study, she will gauge participants' knowledge of popular songs ranging from the late 1960s to present day. She will play clips from five songs from each decade, and the participant will rate their familiarity with the song, and attempt to list the artist, song title and year. 

"At this point there's been quite a bit of research suggesting that as we get older, we kind of remember better the music that we listened to in our young adult age. Because that's when we're reaching out and discovering ourselves and really just getting everything in that we can to figure out who we are as people," MacLean said.

She said she's interested to see how that knowledge will change with each decade of songs.

What she expects 

Though she doesn't know yet what her findings will be, MacLean said she does have some hypotheses.

"What I would assume is that young adults would have a pretty decent memory for music that was older than them, because of being exposed from parents or, you know, radio, stuff like that. But when it comes to current music, they will have a very good recognition, because that's what they're being exposed to the most  today," MacLean said.

By contrast, she expects middle-aged adults to have very good knowledge of songs that were popular when they were young, and a more limited knowledge of current popular music, "because it's not really relevant to them."

"When we listen to music, you have some reminiscing aspects that are associated with songs. Like a fun dance that you went to when you were younger, or when you were hanging out with your friends. You're better to recall the music that you heard in those important memories, [as] opposed to just random stuff on the radio."

MacLean hopes to complete the testing in the next few months. She has tested more than 20 UPEI students so far, but is still looking for more volunteers in the 41 to 56 age range. Anyone interested in participating can contact her.

With files from Angela Walker