I, test-subject

A reporter participates in Dr. Petr Janata’s music/memory experiment

Let’s just get this out of the way upfront: I’m a child of the ’60s. So, when I participated last month in Dr. Petr Janata’s online experiment of “Music Evoked Biographical Memories,” the 30 songs selected from my extended childhood included ditties by the Mamas and the Papas, the Impressions and Elvis.

All the songs topped the R&B and pop charts from when I was about ages 7 to 19, and nearly all were familiar. But a few evoked vivid autobiographical memories. When Dion sang “Runaround Sue,” a video played in my mind’s eye of the dance routine my little girlfriends and I had worked up, and I smiled at the childlike innocence of it all. When the Rolling Stones sang “This could be the last time / may be the last time / I don’t know,” I saw myself walking into a party feeling rebellious and strong. And when I heard James Brown’s voice, I delighted at the dual images of the sweat-drenched “Godfather of Soul” onstage covered by his cape and my boyfriend’s 300-plus-pound best friend screaming as he jumped up and down on his front-row seat. After each song played, I rated how familiar and pleasing it was, and noted any associated autobiographical memories.

The hour-long experiment took me on pleasurable trip down memory lane. If you’d like to participate, click on the link above and follow the directions. But be warned: Two of the songs in my personalized lineup of 30 were painful to listen to, and one by the Association got stuck in my head for weeks:

Who’s peekin’ out from under a stairway
Calling a name that’s lighter than air
Who’s bending down to give me a rainbow
Everyone knows it’s Windy.

Aaaarrrghh … I hate that song. It’s back, and scientists still don’t know why it happens or how to make it stop!