Is Music the Fountain of Youth? Maybe — When it Comes to Verbal Memory

By Julia Mossbridge, MA, Ph.D., “Dr. Julia”

Science Director, Focus@Will labs

WHAT’S THAT WORD? I’m an oldster, and I lose words. I’m not in the minority. As we age, our memories for words decline. This drop in verbal memory has been widely documented scientifically (see Bopp and Verhaegen 2005 for review). Most people assume that there’s nothing we can do about changes in our brains as we age. But, at least for verbal memory, it turns out that there may be something we can do. And it’s simple. It’s listening to streamlined music.

Thanks (MANY MANY THANKS!) to about 1500 Focus@Will listeners, we were able to examine the relationship between age, verbal memory, and environmental sounds. We randomly split participants into three “environmental sound” groups — we asked one group to remain in silence (10 age points for those readers who are thinking “shout out to the Talking Heads!” right now), we asked the second group to listen to whatever type of music they wanted to (anything but Focus@Will streamlined music), and we asked the third group to listen to their favorite Focus@Will channel.

While listening, we asked these participants to perform a word-memory task — they had to memorize 48 words, get tested on them (test 1), get trained on half, and then get tested on all the words again (test 2). The second test was to figure out how much people learned from the training.

For those listening to either silence or “messy music” during the experiment, younger people (ages 18-44)  got significantly better scores than older people (45 and older) on both tests. This difference was erased for those listening to Focus@Will’s streamlined music. After training, not only was this difference between young and old erased for those listening to Focus@Will, older people listening to Focus@Will scored significantly better than other older people who were listening to silence or messy music (see graph). There were no significant differences between the three sound groups for young people, on either test (though we know from our previous work that streamlined music helps young and old people alike on several other cognitive tasks).

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Oldsters listening to Focus@Will learned significantly MORE during training than those crazy youngsters — while there were no learning differences in the other two listening groups. AND — it turns out we crazy oldsters did all this while keeping the fastest response speeds in all three listening groups (though this difference was not statistically significant).

Before you go out and brag to your younger co-workers that it only takes a little bit of music to catch up to them — it’s important to point out that these results were for one type of test only. It remains to be seen how streamlined music influences other factors related to age. But for now, it’s quick, easy, and won’t hurt our knees!



NOTE: While researching and writing this blog post, I remembered all these words using the Neuro Space channel, one of many diverse channels created by Focus@Will labs.

About Julia Mossbridge:

I am a parent of a 17-year old composer and a partner to a wonderful human being. I study the science of consciousness, and I give talks about work engagement, authenticity, and aliveness. I am working on changing the culture of Silicon Valley to move it toward a greater appreciation of the gifts of being human (watch a video of me giving an hour-long talk on this topic, and also see this media coverage in PC Mag). I am the author of Unfolding: The Science of Your Soul’s Work, The Garden: An Inside Experiment, and I co-authored a textbook with Imants Baruss, Transcendent Mind: Re-thinking the Science of Consciousness, published in August 2016 by the American Psychological Association. I am also the Science Director at Focus@Will Labs, Director of the Innovation Lab and a Staff Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and a Visiting Scholar in Psychology at Northwestern University.



Bopp, K. L., & Verhaeghen, P. (2005). Aging and verbal memory span: A meta-analysis. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60(5), P223-P233.

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