A long-standing debate in cognitive neurosciences concerns the effect of music on verbal learning and memory. Research in this field has largely provided conflicting results in both clinical as well as non-clinical populations. Although several studies have shown a positive effect of music on the encoding and retrieval of verbal stimuli, music has also been suggested to hinder mnemonic performance by dividing attention. In an attempt to explain this conflict, we review the most relevant literature on the effects of music on verbal learning and memory. Furthermore, we specify several mechanisms through which music may modulate these cognitive functions. We suggest that the extent to which music boosts these cognitive functions relies on experimental factors, such as the relative complexity of musical and verbal stimuli employed. These factors should be carefully considered in further studies, in order to reliably establish how and when music boosts verbal memory and learning. The answers to these questions are not only crucial for our knowledge of how music influences cognitive and brain functions, but may have important clinical implications. Considering the increasing number of approaches using music as a therapeutic tool, the importance of understanding exactly how music works can no longer be underestimated.
- Received March 9, 2015.
- Accepted February 28, 2016.
- © 2016 by The Regents of the University of California