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Feb 11, 2015 07:18 PM EST

Music Doesn't Help You Remember Things

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New research suggests that although music may help some people relax when they're trying to concentrate; it doesn't help them remember what they're focusing on.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology challenged younger and older adults to listen to music while trying to remember names. College-aged participants had no problems -- the music didn't affect their performance. But the older adults remembered 10 percent fewer names when listening to background music or musical rain as compared to silence.

For the study, researchers wanted to replicate everyday life because music and background noise are everywhere. Their study tested the effects on associative memory, which includes the ability to put a face with a name and remember it.

Study participants looked at a series of faces and names and were asked if the person "looked like" the assigned name. The faces were shown again a few minutes later. Participants had to determine whether the name and face combinations were the same as before. Sometimes people did the test in silence. Other times they listened to musical rain or non-lyrical rock music, including lesser-known songs from Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane and Rush.

"Both age groups agreed that the music was distracting," Sarah Reaves, who led the study, said in a statement. "But only the older adults struggled while it was playing in the background."

Researchers linked the results with the well-known cocktail party effect, a phenomenon that allows people to solely focus their attention on one conversation even while surrounded by multiple conversations or loud music.

"Older adults have trouble ignoring irrelevant noises and concentrating," researcher Audrey Duarte said in a statement. "Associative memory also declines with age. As we get older, it's harder to remember what name went with a face or where a conversation took place."

The findings, which are detailed in The Gerontologist journal, could have implications for senior living centers and people who prefer to hold meetings away from the office.

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