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Neurocase. 2002;8(6):453-65.

Striking a chord with amnesic patients: evidence that song facilitates memory.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.


There have been several reports in the literature, mainly anecdotal, of amnesic patients demonstrating an ability to learn and remember song. Yet there has been little systematic investigation of this phenomenon. In this paper we report findings from three experiments investigating memory for song in two amnesic patients, Joan and Nellie. In the first study we explored recognition memory for various elements of song (i.e. lyrics, melody, lyrics and melody combined) and found that amnesic patients were better than chance at distinguishing studied from novel materials when given explicit instructions. In experiment 2, the ability to generate lyrics and melody was explored in one patient. Although this patient could only generate melodies, her performance in this modality was equivalent to that of matched controls. Memory for the semantic content of song was investigated in a final study using explicit testing conditions. The results showed that both patients were significantly better than chance at identifying correct responses, indicating that they acquired and retained knowledge of the general content of studied songs. These findings not only highlight the special nature of song in facilitating memory in amnesic patients, but given the level of accuracy in memory performance observed, suggest an alternative direction in rehabilitation.

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