Resilient memory for melodies

the number of intervening melodies does not influence novel melody recognition

Steffen Herff, Kirk Olsen, Roger Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


In many memory domains, a decrease in recognition performance between the first and second presentation of an object is observed as the number of intervening items increases. However, this effect is not universal. Within the auditory domain, this form of interference has been demonstrated in word and single-note recognition, but has yet to be substantiated using relatively complex musical material such as a melody. Indeed, it is becoming clear that music shows intriguing properties when it comes to memory. This study investigated how the number of intervening items influences memory for melodies. In Experiments 1, 2 and 3, one melody was presented per trial in a continuous recognition paradigm. After each melody, participants indicated whether they had heard the melody in the experiment before by responding “old” or “new.” In Experiment 4, participants rated perceived familiarity for every melody without being told that melodies reoccur. In four experiments using two corpora of music, two different memory tasks, transposed and untransposed melodies and up to 195 intervening melodies, no sign of a disruptive effect from the number of intervening melodies beyond the first was observed. We propose a new “regenerative multiple representations” conjecture to explain why intervening items increase interference in recognition memory for most domains but not music. This conjecture makes several testable predictions and has the potential to strengthen our understanding of domain specificity in human memory, while moving one step closer to explaining the “paradox” that is memory for melody.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1150– 1171
Number of pages22
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018



  • memory
  • interference
  • music perception
  • recognition
  • familiarity

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