Centre for Educational Research and Innovation - CERI

Brain and Learning: Music, Learning, Memory


Manfred Spitzer

University of Ulm, Germany

Emotion plays a more important role in our lives than previously assumed, and the increasing use of terms like “social intelligence” and “emotional quotient” demonstrate a growing awareness of the role of emotion in one’s successful negotiation throughout life. Nearly every aspect of our lives is influenced by the emotional state we experience at that moment—a response based on past experience. Thinking of the possible effects of emotion in areas traditionally considered the domain of logic and reason, such as decision-making, has led to the development of the somatic marker hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that one’s emotional state influences how one reasons out a decision. Hence, the emotional effect associated with one’s learning, experience or outcome, be it positive or negative, influences every decision we make.
Music, which is common to all known human cultures, can invoke powerful emotions in people. One’s music preferences can be seen in areas of the brain regulating reward, fear, and emotional and somatic information processing. Preferred music activates the brain’s reward system while decreasing activity in the amygdala. Having already demonstrated the effect of positive emotions on word learning, and given the somatic marker effect, we believe music that creates a positive effect should facilitate learning. Using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques, we will investigate possible benefits of “positive mood setting” music on information encoding.


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