Music can be a potent cue for autobiographical memories in both everyday and clinical settings. Understanding the extent to which music may have privileged access to aspects of our personal histories requires critical comparisons to other types of memories and exploration of how music-evoked autobiographical memories (MEAMs) vary across individuals. We compared the retrieval characteristics, content, and emotions of MEAMs to television-evoked autobiographical memories (TEAMs) in an online sample of 657 participants who were representative of the British adult population on age, gender, income, and education. Each participant reported details of a recent MEAM and a recent TEAM experience. MEAMs exhibited significantly greater episodic reliving, personal significance, and social content than TEAMs, and elicited more positive and intense emotions. The majority of these differences between MEAMs and TEAMs persisted in an analysis of a subset of responses in which the music and television cues were matched on familiarity. Age and gender effects were smaller, and consistent across both MEAMs and TEAMs. These results indicate phenomenological differences in naturally occurring memories cued by music as compared to television that are maintained across adulthood. Findings are discussed in the context of theoretical accounts of autobiographical memory, functions of music, and healthy aging.

You do not currently have access to this content.