Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Johnsrude, Ingrid

2nd Supervisor

Grahn, Jessica



Some individuals with dementia experience unexplained periods of improved cognition in response to music. We examined the effects of music tempo and familiarity on a cognitively demanding task to replicate this improvement. We had 37 healthy older adults (21 females, mean age 67.5, SD = 5.49) complete a divergent thinking task before and after listening to a 25-minute personalized playlist. Playlists contained music that was either familiar or unfamiliar and either fast or slow. We expected participants in the familiar and fast conditions to score significantly better on the task after listening than those in the unfamiliar and slow conditions, respectively, but improvement would be significantly larger in the familiar than fast conditions. We found no significant effects of tempo or familiarity on pre- vs. post-test scores. This study may have been underpowered, and further data collection is indicated to understand what music should be used therapeutically in dementia.

Summary for Lay Audience

Individuals with dementia may lose their ability to think over time. Paradoxically lucidity happens when people with dementia experience a sudden unexplained improvement in thinking; it may be triggered by music. We studied different components of music – speed and familiarity – to understand why it can bring on paradoxical lucidity. We tested a group of 37 healthy Canadian older adults aged 61 and 79 by giving them a difficult cognitive task before and after listening to music. The music they listened to was either fast or slow, and either familiar or unfamiliar. We expected that participants who listened to familiar and fast music would show a significant improvement in their scores after listening, although we expected a greater improvement in those listening to familiar versus fast music. We found no significant differences amongst participants, maybe because had too few participants enrolled in the study. Finding these differences in the future would help music therapists and caregivers pick the right music to help people with dementia.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License