Memory Research News in Strategies

Learning music or another language leads to more efficient brains

  • Brain imaging shows that musicians and bilinguals require less effort to perform an auditory working memory task, compared to monolingual non-musicians.

Musicians and people who are bilingual have long been shown to have a better working memory, and a new study makes a start on identifying why this might be so.

The brain imaging study, involving 41 young adults (aged 19-35), who were either monolingual non-musicians, monolingual musicians, or bilingual non-musicians, found that musicians and bilinguals needed fewer brain resources when remembering sounds.

Participants were asked to identify whether the sound they heard was the same type as the previous one, and if the sound came from the same direction as the previous one. Sounds from musical instruments, the environment and humans were among those used in the study.

Musicians remembered the type of sound faster than individuals in the other groups, and bilinguals and musicians performed better than monolinguals on the location task. Although bilinguals remembered the sound at about the same level as monolingual non-musicians, their brains showed less activity when completing the task.

In both tasks and both levels of difficulty, musicians showed lower brain activity in the superior prefrontal frontal gyrus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally, which is thought to reflect better use of neural resources. Bilinguals showed increased activity in language-related areas (left DLPFC and left supramarginal gyrus), which may reflect a need to suppress interference associated with competing semantic activations from multiple languages.

The findings demonstrate that musical training and bilingualism benefit executive functioning and working memory via different activities and networks.


[4352] Alain C, Khatamian Y, He Y, Lee Y, Moreno S, Leung AWS, Bialystok E. Different neural activities support auditory working memory in musicians and bilinguals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences [Internet]. Submitted . Available from:

Reading information aloud to yourself improves memory

  • A lab experiment finds we remember written information better when we read it aloud, and that this is more due to the self involvement than to the motor aspect of producing the words.

Confirming what many of us have learned through practical experience, a study comparing different strategies of reading or listening has found that you are more likely to remember something if you read it out loud to yourself.

In the study, 75 undergraduate students first spent around 15 minutes being recorded as they read aloud 160 common words. They were not told any reason for this activity. Two weeks later, they attended another short session, in which they were told that they would be given the same words they had read earlier, and they would then be tested on their memory of them. Half of the 160 words were given to them in four learning conditions (20 words in each):

  • reading silently
  • hearing someone else read
  • listening to a recording of oneself reading (taken from the first session)
  • reading aloud.

They were then given a self-paced recognition test involving all 160 words, and had to classify each one as “studied” or “new”.

The expected pattern of performance was consistent with that hypothesized: reading aloud was best, followed by hearing oneself, then hearing another, and finally reading silently. There was not a lot of difference between saying aloud and hearing oneself, however — words that were said aloud were only marginally better remembered than those in which one heard oneself say the word (hit rate of 77% vs 74%). Hearing someone else speak was significantly better than simply reading silently (69% vs 65%) (I know, it doesn’t seem much more different, but the first comparison didn’t reach statistical significance, and the second did, just). Much clearer was the comparison between those conditions with a self-referential component (reading aloud, hearing yourself) vs conditions with no such component — here the difference was very clearly significant. This was supported by the results of an unplanned comparison between the hear-self and hear-other conditions, which also produced a significant difference.

These results are consistent with previous research, though the differences are smaller than previous. It seems likely that this might be due to the necessity for participants to have previously experienced the words in the earlier session (obviously it would have been much better to have a substantially longer period between the sessions; I assume logistical issues were behind this choice).

In any case, the findings do support the idea that reading aloud helps memory through all three of its ‘extra’ components:

  • the motor aspect in producing the word
  • the auditory aspect in hearing the word
  • the self-referential aspect of being associated with one self.

Notably, this study suggests that it is the third of these (self-referential) that is the most important aspect, with the motor aspect being least important.


[4335] Forrin ND, MacLeod CM. This time it’s personal: the memory benefit of hearing oneself. Memory [Internet]. 2018 ;26(4):574 - 579. Available from: