Does pathological aging affect musical learning and memory?

Séverine Samson*, Amee Baird, Aline Moussard, Sylvain Clément

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


THE EFFECT OF PATHOLOGICAL AGING ON EXPLICIT MEMORY is very well documented, but relatively few studies have addressed this issue in the musical domain. To examine learning and consolidation of melodies, we designed a melodic recognition task involving immediate and delayed recognition of 16 target melodies (8 familiar and 8 unfamiliar). Seventeen patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease (AD) and 17 age-matched controls were tested. During the initial presentation of the targets, the participant had to decide whether or not the melody was familiar. Recognition was tested after one and three presentations of the target melodies using a yes/no recognition paradigm. Delayed recognition was tested after 24 hours to evaluate consolidation. In keeping with the findings of Bartlett, Halpern, and Dowling (1995), age-matched controls showed better recognition of familiar than unfamiliar melodies. Controls also showed improved performance with multiple presentations for both familiar and unfamiliar melodies, without forgetting after 24-hour delay. In contrast, patients with AD showed impaired learning and recognition of both unfamiliar and familiar melodies with no benefit of familiarity on recognition. Nevertheless, the familiarity decision-based ratings of patients was in keeping with controls. These findings suggest that musical recognition memory is impaired in AD, but the musical lexicon (as assessed by familiarity ratings) is preserved. These findings highlight the need to use both familiar and unfamiliar music in experimental tasks to study the different processes underlying recognition memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-500
Number of pages8
JournalMusic Perception
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Music


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