The Effect Of Musical Complexity And Familiarity On Serial Recall

1494 words - 6 pages

Students study and do work in different ways. For example, some may prefer to practice flashcards, while another might prefer to create pneumonic devices. One common study aid is to listen to music. One would assume that music would act as a great distractor to the learning process, yet it continues to be a popular way to study. In fact, a common belief is that the music increases focus and eliminates distracting background sounds. However, music’s impact on memory, as opposed to attention and focus, is usually not considered. How does the background presence of auditory stimuli, specifically music, influence memory? One aspect of music that makes it unique is its immediate familiarity and ease to which it can be remembered and engaged with. How does one’s familiarity with the music impact their ability to study? Also how does the complexity of the music impact memory?

The negative effects of irrelevant auditory stimuli on short term memory have been well documented and observed (D. Jones, 1999). Even at very low levels, irrelevant background speech can result in a 30% performance loss during serial recall, where participants must recite a past list in the same order as presented initially (Tremblay & D. M. Jones, 1998) (Beaman & D. M. Jones, 1997). These effects occur even when study participants are specifically instructed to ignore the background audio as these sounds are not part of the experiment (W. J. Macken, Tremblay, Houghton, Nicholls, & D. M. Jones, 2003b) (Tremblay, Nicholls, Alford, & D. M. Jones, 2000c). Participants are often unaware of any affect the background sounds have on their recall ability (Beaman & D. M. Jones, 1997). This overall occurrence is called the “irrelevant sound effect.” ISE appears to occur specifically during the rehearsal stage (D. Jones, 1999). When sounds are played during only the encoding or retrieval phases no increase in error was observed. This strongly suggests that the decline in serial recall does not come from distraction during the encoding phase. However, this effect is most prominently displayed during serial recall exercises (Beaman & D. M. Jones, 1997). Similar, but notably smaller, effects have been observed in free-recall exercises (LeCompte, 1994), but no effect has been observed when participants are asked to identify missing components from a remembered set (Beaman & D. M. Jones, 1997). These studies all used intermittent tones, white noise, or, most commonly, irrelevant speech. Little research has been done to explore how ISE functions with music as the audio stimulus. What has been determined is that music does produce an ISE (Schlittmeier, Hellbrück, & Klatte, 2008) and that musical preference does not influence the degree of the effect -both liked and disliked music have the same effect on serial recall (Perham & Vizard, 2010). However many factors have not been considered, notably musical complexity and familiarity.

This study proposes that that the listener’s familiarity with...

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