Sound & Memory: Appreciating Echoic Memory

The smell of freshly baked cookies and swimming pools can bring back fond memories of childhood. Other, often less pleasant, odors can trigger memories we’d rather forget. And studies have shown that our sense of smell is more effective for memory recall than sight and sound. One reason for this is that the body simply has more scent receptors than it does for the other senses. But sight, sound, and touch all play a role in our ability to access memories.

Although research from the University of Iowa found that we don’t remember what we hear quite as well as what we see or touch, aural learning remains among the seven learning styles, which would suggest that some people process, or even excel at processing, sound better than others.

Music serves as a good example: Emotions enhance memories and music often triggers strong emotions and, therefore, is involved in forming memories associated with a specific piece of music or the information related to it. But is music only defined as an instrumental/musical composition? I would say no.

Plenty of everyday sounds create a symphony all their own.

If you live in a city, horns honking, car alarms ringing, and sirens blaring might be part of your echoic memory. If you live in the country, your echoic memory might be filled with the sounds of the wind, ATVs, wildlife, and distance vehicles.

We may not think about them very often, or even enjoy all of them, but they’re certainly associated with our memories in some way or another.

New research suggests that the region of the brain responsible for processing the senses is also, partially, responsible for storing memories. In study subjects, researchers discovered that the sensory cortices store specific emotional information related to sight, sound, and smell.

Echoic memories — memories of sounds that we’ve heard or perceived — are stored longer than other types of memory, but are less likely to be visited repeatedly and may include less detail than other forms of sensory memories.

Photo by icatchingdesign/Pixabay.

I need the smell of summer, I need its noises in my ears.
-Brand New

Wind rushing through treetops; dried leaves and snow crunching under foot; crickets and frogs humming a night song; burbling creeks, rushing rivers, water lapping at the shoreline, and waves crashing; coyotes yipping and crows cawing in the distance are some of my favorite sounds.

I don’t usually think about them until I hear them again, but each one elicits a strong emotional response, from a sense of deep calm to joy. These are sounds that I find comforting. They remind me of home, childhood, and other happy times, even on the worst of days.


Featured image by Unsplash/Pixabay.