Listen ! Classical music may not benefit learning in people with mild cognitive impairment

Summary: According to a recent study, ambient classical music has no effect on learning levels in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). However, listening to high-arousal music may have a positive impact on people who use music as an emotional regulator, suggesting the need for further research.

Source: UOC

Given the lack of effective treatments to counteract cognitive impairment, background music has traditionally been proposed as a possible therapeutic alternative to improve memory-related tasks. Its effect has long been the subject of debate, but this relationship now appears to be possibly determined by new interindividual parameters, which means that it may be more complex than previously thought.

This is shown by research carried out by Marco Calabria, a researcher from the Cognitive Neurolab group of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), who is now considering new experiments.

The first results of the Mozart effect and memory in patients with cognitive impairment (MEM-COG) A study funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation suggests that listening to background classical music while performing memory tasks does not improve or impair learning levels in people with cognitive impairment. lightweight (MCI).

However, listening to more “exciting” music has been found to have a possible positive effect on people accustomed to using music as an emotional regulator in their daily lives, suggesting that there is potential for other hypotheses and research.

The study, which was published openly in the Alzheimer’s Disease Journalwas conducted with patients from the Neuropsychology Unit of the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona and involved researchers from the hospital, Concordia University in Montreal and the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute in Madrid.

There is no universal effect

“We found no general impact regarding the effect of music in terms of whether it had positive or negative effects on learning in cases of MCI, but we found that it would be modulated for each individual.

“If people regularly use music as an emotional regulator in their daily lives, such as to help them stay calm or for companionship, they will find it easier to get other benefits from music when they need to learn something new. again,” explained Calabria, who has a doctorate in psychobiology.

The subjects of the study were people with amnesic mild cognitive impairment, that is, memory problems resulting from the onset of more specific neurodegeneration in the parts of the brain dealing with aspects of learning and Memory.

The experiments consisted of observing 24 photographs of human faces. Participants were instructed to memorize them, and 10 minutes later they were asked to look at a new series containing the 24 previous images and 24 new ones, in an attempt to identify which ones they had already seen.

A classic choice

The first test was performed with the subjects listening to classical music in the information consolidation phase but not in the recovery phase, while in the second exercise it was repeated with the auditory stimulus during both phases. . However, no significant difference was observed in terms of results.

Classical music was used in these exercises because “it’s a type of music that falls somewhere between relaxation and excitement, and has been shown to be the most effective in improving memory.” Moreover, the fact that it is instrumental reduces the interference (which can come from the lyrics) with the content that the participants have to learn in the memory task.

A ray of light

However, the Calabria team wanted to conduct a third experiment with popular music considered to be exciting rather than relaxing, and after a preliminary study they used an instrumental version of a ray of sunshine (A ray of light), from the band Los Diablos. In this experiment, according to Calabria, the results suggest that “the use of music as a mood regulation strategy is associated with better performance in memory tasks.”

Currently researching

This finding opens the possibility of further research to further explore the role of interindividual preferences and attitudes towards music in patients with MCI. The group plans to continue the project until the end of 2024.

This shows a person playing the violin
Classical music was used in these exercises because “it’s a type of music that falls somewhere between relaxation and excitement, and has been shown to be the most effective in improving memory.” Image is in public domain

During this time, he will investigate whether background music might be more helpful in other cognitive domains, such as attention and concentration in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The experiments will also involve the use of a new infrared spectroscopy device at the Neuro Lab, one of the new labs recently opened at UOC, which will show activation at the brain level as cognitive processes unfold.

This will determine whether or not there are alterations in the modulation of the brain, in which areas this occurs and whether it depends on the type of person studied, regardless of the level of response to music.

Overall, this will help find a type of marker that determines who is most likely to benefit from music in cognitive tasks.

“The more we know about how background music shapes cognitive processes, the better use we can make of music as a therapeutic tool in cognitive stimulation,” concluded Calabria, an expert in the study of processes. cognitive studies and a member of the teaching staff on the Masters in Neuropsychology of the UOC.

Funding: This research project receives funding from the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Science and Innovation and contributes to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 3, Good Health and Wellbeing.

About this music and cognition research news

Author: Anna Sanchez-Juarez P
Source: UOC
Contact: Anna Sanchez-Juarez P – UOC
Picture Image is in public domain

Original research: Free access.
“Background music and memory in mild cognitive impairment: the role of interindividual differences” by Calabria, Marco et al. Alzheimer’s Disease Journal


Background music and memory in mild cognitive impairment: the role of interindividual differences


Recent research has shown that background music can improve memory consolidation and retrieval. Nevertheless, in clinical conditions preceding dementia such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), there is no current evidence regarding the effect of background music during memory tasks on cognitive impairment.


Through three experiments, we investigated whether background music was able to improve memory performance, the most impacted cognitive domain in amnesic MCI.

Methods :

We tested the effect of background music using a facial recognition memory task in patients with amnesic MCI. In Experiment 1, we tested the effect of background music on memory when played only during an encoding phase. In Experiment 2, we explored the effects of background music when played during the encoding and recognition phases. In Experiment 3, we explored the role of music-induced arousal on memory.


The main finding of these three experiments was that background music played during a memory task neither improved nor worsened participants’ performance. However, when exposed to high arousal music, memory performance was predicted by individual mood regulation. For the low-arousal music conditions, there was a negative relationship between rating scores for music enjoyment and performance on the memory task.


Our results suggest that the benefits of background music on memory in individuals with MCI are modulated by interindividual preferences towards music.

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