We’ve all had the experience of hearing a song and being transported in memory to some time in the past.

Research on music and memory shows that certain songs (or even words to a song) stimulate neuron firings of certain memory traces. Music activates more areas in the brain than any other sensory stimulus.

The effect is so strong that it’s now a therapy for people with dementia. When music from their past is played to them, they not only enjoy it, but it also stimulates lucidity and memories.

For more information on music, memories, and dementia, watch this clip from the documentary Alive Inside: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=376&v=fyZQf0p73QM

Elizabeth Margulis (2013), director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas, showed that the emotional parts of the brain are more active when people listen to familiar music, even if they don’t like it.

Music And Mood

Listening to music can change people’s mood, sometimes in a matter of seconds. Adding music to a video, ad, movie, or TV program can change the emotional impact of the piece, and change people’s behavior.

If you want to move people to action, consider adding music to your message.

Mona Lisa Chanda (2013) reviewed 400 studies and concluded that music stimulates the immune system and, in some situations, is more effective than anti-anxiety medication.

People Respond In A Similar Way

Daniel Abrams (2013) found that brain activity was synced among people who were listening to the same music. He also saw brain activity in areas that control movement, attention, planning, and memory, even when people were sitting still listening to music.

Björn Vickhoff (2013) studied the heart rates of people singing together in a choir. Everyone’s heart rate started synchronizing when they sang together. A slow, structured beat had the biggest effect, and also slowed down everyone’s heartbeat.


  • Whether you’re designing a video, ad, public space, or website, you can use music to grab attention and to set a mood.
  • When you want to stimulate memory, you may need to choose music that’s specific to a given person (or let the person choose her own music). But when you just want to grab attention or improve mood, you don’t have to use familiar or individualized music.
  • Test your music with your target audience. If they like the music, you can assume that most people in that target audience will react in a similar way.


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