It is a problem we have all encountered – humming along to a song then suddenly forgetting the words. Researchers have now discovered the part of the brain that lets us recognise music and ‘name that tune’. They discovered the same area responsible for remembering names and landmarks, the left temporal lobe, also deals with music.
Researchers enlisted 30 participants from the Iowa Neurological Patient Registry in a ‘famous melodies naming task.’ The participants were further divided into 10 patients with left temporal lobe (LTP) damage, 10 brain damaged comparison patients, and 10 participants with no brain damage.
The task included listening to 52 famous melodies—some with and some without lyrics—ranging from 8-15 seconds in duration. After hearing each melody, participants were asked to rate their familiarity with the melody and identify it by name.
Recognition of melodies did not differ significantly between groups. Recognition of the song is different from remembering its title; the former refers to information that confers knowing, while the latter refers to a proper name, the University of Iowa researchers note.
The researchers also contend that recalling names – especially proper names – is difficult, because there is only one right answer. Recognizing something—such as a melody—is easier, because it is more general, and the brain can draw upon other avenues to come up with the right answer.
The group plans to further its work using melody and song-title recognition to investigate which brain regions are associated with isolated deficits in melody recognition. These deficits could be independent of naming defects.