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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Unforgettable film music: The role of emotion in episodic long-term memory for music

Susann Eschrich1*, Thomas F Münte2 and Eckart O Altenmüller1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine, University of Music and Drama Hannover, Hohenzollernstrasse 47, 30161 Hannover, Germany

2 Institute for Psychology II, Neuropsychology, University of Magdeburg Otto-von-Guericke, Universitätsplatz, Building 24, 39106 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-48

Published: 28 May 2008



Specific pieces of music can elicit strong emotions in listeners and, possibly in connection with these emotions, can be remembered even years later. However, episodic memory for emotional music compared with less emotional music has not yet been examined. We investigated whether emotional music is remembered better than less emotional music. Also, we examined the influence of musical structure on memory performance.


Recognition of 40 musical excerpts was investigated as a function of arousal, valence, and emotional intensity ratings of the music. In the first session the participants judged valence and arousal of the musical pieces. One week later, participants listened to the 40 old and 40 new musical excerpts randomly interspersed and were asked to make an old/new decision as well as to indicate arousal and valence of the pieces. Musical pieces that were rated as very positive were recognized significantly better.


Musical excerpts rated as very positive are remembered better. Valence seems to be an important modulator of episodic long-term memory for music. Evidently, strong emotions related to the musical experience facilitate memory formation and retrieval.