Music and Memory

Different brain areas store old and new memories, report says

August 12, 1999 - Nature

Different areas of the brain store old and new memories, scientists in France and the United States have learned, the latest edition of the magazine Nature reports.

Edmond Teng and Larry Squire, of the University of California, discovered that a 76-year-old man could still remember perfectly the streets in his home town, last seen by him 50 years ago, but could not recognise the researchers from one day to the next.

A viral infection had caused total damage to the man's hippocampus, an area of the brain that experiments on rodents suggest is probably involved in how we map out our physical environment.

Teng and Squire proposed from their tests that it is also essential for the formation of new memories, but not the site for storage of distant memories.

A separate study of mice by Bruno Bontempi and Robert Jaffard of the Bordeaux University showed the hippocampus is heavily involved in recalling recently acquired memories or memories that are still being acquired, Nature reported.

After a lapse of some days or weeks, however, these memories appeared to become transferred to a different area of the brain, the French researchers found.

Bontempi and Jaffard determined which parts of the brain became activated in finding food initially, and then later on when the memory of its location became imbedded.

Learning music helps verbal memory, study shows

London -November 11, 1998 --Nando News

Although musical training may not seem to be the most obvious way to improve one's memory, scientists in Hong Kong have shown that musicians have an advantage over their non-trained counterparts. In other words, music lessons can improve long-term verbal memory. Studying notes and scales seems to enlarge a region of the brain called the left planum temporale, which is involved in remembering words.

Agnes Chan, of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, tested the verbal memory of 60 female college students, half of whom had at least six years of music training before the age of 12. They divided the students into two groups, read them 16-word lists three times and asked to repeat what they could remember. "We found that adults with music training learned significantly more words than those without any music training," Chan and her colleageus said in a letter to the science journal Nature.

They believe the music may be advantageous because it is easier to engage children in music lessons than other memory strategies. It could also be useful for people with language impairment. The research is consistent with previous studies linking music training with an enlarged cerebellum, which forms the bulk of the brain. Scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that the cerebellum of expert musicians was five percent larger than people who had not studied music.

Another American study also showed that piano lessons increased children's ability in learning mathematics and science. The researchers said studies into the impact of the age when music lessons are started and their duration should provide more information about verbal memory.