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The study conducted by William Balch and Benjamin Lewis is indented to analyze the extent to which music-dependent-memory fits into the overall and greater category of context-dependent-memory (CDM). The term is defined by the authors of the study as referring to "a change in context or environment that causes some of the material learned in the original context to be forgotten" (Balch and Lewis, 1996). This aspect of research is important because it places music-dependent-memory in context and provides a view on the role music may have in stocking information on the short and long run. Most importantly, though, the aim of the research included testing a variety of elements that would or would not influence the memory. These include context, tempo, type of music, and even the mood induced by the music. According to the researchers, these aspects can influence memory and be seen as factors that induce CDM.
The research in itself has a rather straightforward methodology. It focuses on two main elements. On the one hand, part of the conclusions or at least part of the researchers' starting points is the previous studies conducted on this subject and, on the other hand, the experiments conducted on a number of subjects that determine the empirical results. The previous research on the topic focuses on information retrieved on the context-dependent-memory as a general topic, in studies from researchers such as Eich and Metcalfe, Bower, Monteiro, & Gilligan, or Smith, studies that have pointed out the further need for research on different other types of stimuli that could determine CDM. Therefore, the rational behind the current experiments and study takes into account the gap in information on how music can influence memory and what would be the underlining factors that would determine music to produce such an effect.
The second part of the methodology or source of conclusion is the actual experiments conducted. Overall, the purpose of the experiments was to identify the degree to which different factors related to music would influence music-dependent-memory. The methodology of the experiments took into account two types of music -- classical and jazz; two types of tempos -- slow and fast, mood context, and recall context. The subjects were asked to write down words they would hear twice (they would be played 24 words) on the same type of music/tempo and would afterwards need to recall. The participants were also provided with the typed words presented in front of them.
For experiment 1, a number of 168 volunteers from two campuses of the Penn University were subjected to a same context recall. The overall context was presented three times different. The recall would take into account same context, different-tempo context, and different-selection context. The results concluded that it is easier to recall on same recall context, rather than different context.
The results from Experiment 1 were then compared with the ones from experiment 2 (conducted on 128 subjects from the same campus) which were given different recall contexts. The results reiterated the accuracy of Experiment 1, further stressing that no-context recall and different tempo context further reduces the ability to word recall. Experiment 3 looked at the role played by tempo, timbre and musical selection on mood. The experiment took into account 64 students from two different campuses. The results pointed that tempo plays a role on mood arousal. Finally, experiment 4 focused on the results from Experiment 3 in which it was agreed that tempo and mood arousal are connected whereas music and timbre are not. The purpose of the final experiment was to link these two variables to music-dependent-memory.
The hypothesis of the study focused on the fact that mood influences and determines music-dependent-memory. The experiments conducted and the methodology used concluded to the support of this idea. However, there are several aspects to be taken into account.
Firstly the conclusion was reached given a number of steps that focused on the four experiments. More precisely, the results received from one experiment were taken as a starting point for the next phase of the experiment. Except for Experiment 2, which sought to verify the results from Experiment 1, the rest of the experiments left from the point that the previous one was accurate. This approach may be subject to flaw particularly because the subjects cannot be seen as identical. From one experiment to another the subjects changed and this change should be taken into account as a variable.
Secondly, another variable and possible shortcoming of the research is related to the subjects that were used in the Experiments. In this sense, for each four of the experiments, they included students from different campuses. In the first two cases, the students were from the same university, whereas for the rest of the experiments, they also were from another university. The final experiment even took into account additional twenty students that would rate the mood tapes. This approach is not necessarily a shortcoming of the study but it provides another type of variable that must be taken into account at the level of the accuracy of the information gathered as a result of the experiments. The fact that there is no clear match between the sources of the results may point out to a larger margin of error when applying and generalizing the findings of the study.
Thirdly, related to the sources of the results, the authors justified the selection of the music by pointing out that these two types of music (classical and jazz) would be less familiar to the subjects. As the research concluded that mood influences music-dependent-memory, a lack of knowledge or connection with these two types of music may as well influence the word recall approach. More precisely, memory, as suggested in this study as well, tends to be influenced by additional facts that trigger word associations and hence a faster recall time. If the subjects are totally unaware of a particular stimulus, the reaction time and quantity of recall material is decreased and may have nothing to do with the mood a certain type of tempo encourages.
Finally, the choice of the subjects was done randomly which further points out that these results cannot be considered as generally applicable. More precisely, there are individuals whose training permits a better understanding and obvious recall capacity. These include individuals that are, even to a limited extend, and engaged in music related activities -- learning foreign languages, human sciences, social sciences. Such backgrounds are consistent with a particular affinity towards memory exercises and special attention given to word related details. Also, individuals that are strongly engaged in learning activities have a better-stimulated overall memory as it is well-known that memory is an exercised ability. With these two assumptions in mind, the results that are obtained from a set of experiments conducted on individuals that are engaged in continuous learning activities would not necessarily be applicable to a grown up no longer involved in systematic academic exercises. This factor can become a liability for the overall results of the study if taken in conjunction with the changing of the subjects at the end of every experiment, an aspect that does not provide consistency for the comparisons and may offer distinct results as starting points for the next phase of the experiments.
Overall the structure of the experiments as well as the general considerations and conclusions of the study do ensure an added value to the researched subject. However, in order to improve the applicability and range of the conclusions the authors reached and supported through these experiments, follow up studies should take into account several aspects in particular related to the methodology. One of the most important elements of the research is the range of subjects and the backgrounds from which these are selected. It must be pointed out that is these types of experiments the reactions of the subjects are the actual providers of results. The interpretation of such reactions mostly reflects the background of the researchers and the previous studies conducted on the matter. However, the raw data is provided by the individual response to certain stimuli. Therefore, in order to provide a more uniform overall conclusion to the research it is important that the individuals are connected by as many common traits as possible. On the other hand however, a wider range of subjects ensures a greater variety of responses and opens the door to both variables and further research directions. Even so, if the study aims to provide a clear, undeniable answer to a specific question, the representativeness of the subjects must be limited to a certain segment inside a wider range.
An important aspect that must be taken into account when discussing further research strategies on this subject is related to increasing the variety of the music performed. It has been concluded in the current research that no music context does not trigger music-dependent-memory. However, such a context provides a still-type of stimuli that in turn detracts memory from being formed, similar to different context…[continue]
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