I Know This Song, But I Can’t Remember Its Name!

9 Jan

Recognition without identification (RWI) is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals are able to recognize the object in question but are unable to identify it.  A common example of  this phenomenon includes recognizing a familiar face but being unable to name the person.  Psychological research found that experimental stimuli can be discerned from novel stimuli by participants without identification.  Thus, these participants were able to recognize which stimuli were previously presented but were unable to name these objects.  In the context of a musical experience, RWI occurs when listeners recognize a familiar melody but are unable to label (“name”) the tune.

Bogdan Kostic and Anne M. Cleary examined which characteristics of songs result in RWI.  Citing work by Krumhansl (2000), the investigators postulated that rhythm and pitch are the fundamental properties for music cognition and isolating these components might infer the cause of song RWI.

Fifty-nine undergrads listened to 120 piano melodies of familiar rock songs, children’s songs, or pop songs.  The music samples contained no harmony; only monophonic melodies.  For the rhythm condition, a single note was played using the song’s intrinsic temporal patterns.  For the pitch condition, the original melody of the sample songs remained intact, while random rhythms were assigned. The participants listened to a “study” list before the presentation of a “test” list.  Songs from the study list were interspersed within the test list.  Three other variations of this experiment were performed.

The results showed that both pitch and rhythm information evoke feelings of song familiarity.  When the original rhythm of a song was removed but the pitch information left intact, song RWI was found.  Additionally, when the original rhythm of a song was left preserved but the pitch information was removed, song RWI was also found.  The researchers theorize that other essential elements of music such as timbre, dynamics, spatial location, and melodic contour might not cause song RWI in mundane environments.  Other research discovered that altering these additional music elements did influence the music’s structure, thus, rhythm and pitch might be absolute to the RWI phenomenon.

Kostic, B., & Cleary, A.M. (2009). Song recognition without identification: when people cannot “name that tune” but can recognize it as familiar. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 138(1), 146-159.


2 Responses to “I Know This Song, But I Can’t Remember Its Name!”

  1. J DUBBS February 2, 2011 at 3:13 am #


    so annoying when that does happen! but i heard there’s an app that can help name songs (of course, there’s an app for everything)


  1. Tweets that mention I Know This Song, But I Can’t Remember Its Name! « parker tichko -- Topsy.com - January 11, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rik van Dinteren. Rik van Dinteren said: interesting stuff RT @parkertichko I Know This Song, But I Can’t Remember Its Name! http://bit.ly/fx8xxn #music #cognition #psychology […]

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