Music is one of the most important sources of pleasure in life. Music-related reward responses are modulated by dopamine release. By strengthening the synaptic potentiation produced by learning, stimuli triggering dopamine release could lead to long-term memory improvements (neo-Hebbian framework for episodic memory) for the items encoded during and after dopamine release (penumbra hypothesis). Here, we behaviourally tested 1) whether music-related reward responses enhance verbal episodic memory and 2) whether such enhancement takes place even in the absence of the rewarding stimulus during the encoding. Participants (N=100) were asked to encode lists of words presented in differently rewarding musical contexts (classical music rated as highly pleasurable, lowly pleasurable, and control white noise), played before and during (N=49), or only before (N=51) the encoding. In addition, we measured participants’ sensitivity to musical reward through the Barcelona Music Reward Questionnaire (BMRQ). Twenty-four hours later, their verbal episodic memory was tested (old/new recognition and remember/know paradigm). Results revealed that words encoded in highly pleasurable music condition are better remembered, but specifically in those participants with the highest sensitivity to musical reward (i.e. more musical hedonics). Furthermore, this effect did not differ when manipulating the duration of the auditory stimulus, suggesting that memory enhancement driven by highly pleasurable music persists even when it is not concurrently present during the encoding of target items. By shedding new light on the role of musical reward on episodic memory, these results open important perspectives for the application of music as stimulation tool for memory processes.
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