Measure the Effect of Volume of Background Music on Short-Term Memory

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Author: Janice VanCleave

How Does the Volume of Background Music Affect Short-Term Memory?

Category: Biology—Behavioral Science

Project Idea by: Laura Coiro and Nicole Fieger

Memory is the ability to retain and recall past experiences. Memory is a cognitive process, which is the mental process a person uses for remembering, reasoning, understanding, problem solving, evaluating, and using judgment; that is, it is what a person knows and understands.

There are three basic types of memory: sensory, short-term, and long-term. Sensory memory is the ability to retain impressions of sensory information after the original stimulus has ceased. Sensory information includes what you discover by hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling. This memory is thought to last from 1 second to 2 seconds.

Short-term memory is your working memory; that is, it is your primary memory or active memory, the one you use most of the time. Short-term memory is like taking notes for temporary recall of the information being processed. For instance, in order to understand a sentence, the words you read are held in short-term memory. Information is either forgotten or transferred from your short-term memory to your long-term memory after about 30 seconds. Long-term memory is information that you can recall after days or even years.

Interference is one of the reasons that short-term information is forgotten. Interference means that information in storage is distorted as new information is stored. A project question might be, "How does volume of background music affect short-term memory?"

Clues for Your Investigation

Test four groups, each with a different volume of background music: low, medium, high, and as a control, no music. Design a short-term memory test such as having testers view six different cards with an increasing number of letters on them. For example, cards can have 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 letters written in capital letters in a straight line. Each card will be viewed for a specific length of time such as 3 seconds. Then the tester will write down as many letters as he or she remembers.

Independent Variable: Volume of music

Dependent Variable: Short-term memory

Controlled Variables: Type of music, testing conditions, age and gender of testers, size and color of letters

Control: No background music

Other Questions to Explore


  1. What effect does age have on memory?
  2. What effect does gender have on memory?
  3. What is consolidation time and how does it affect memory?
  4. What is distributed practice and how does it affect memory?


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