Why Do We Return to Songs from Our Youth?



All humans have a connection with music because music evokes emotions. Music is closely related to feelings and emotions. The stronger emotion one feels when listening to a particular song, a connection is made. The music has entered the mind’s memory. Music represents our identity especially when we were 14 to 24 years old. This is the time where young people undergo several physical and psychological changes.


Our teenage and young adult years are powerful periods where we experience our first loves, heartbreaks, and other emotional milestones. These milestones make it easier for young people to make strong connections with music. This is why most of us return to songs we listened to in our youth.


Music in our autobiographical memories


Music is linked with our memories and emotions. Music can make us happy, it can also make us sad. General research has shown that autobiographical memories from certain time periods are better remembered than others. It’s a fact that people tend to remember memories from when they were 10 to 30 years old better.


Perhaps this period contains many novel and self-defining experiences. These deep experiences may be encoded in the brain more deeply and retrieved more easily. Biological and hormonal changes also boost the effectiveness of our memories during this period.


In studies, participants asked to choose their favourite music record tend to choose albums from when they were between 10 to 30 years old (also known as a period of musical reminiscence bump). Older adults too, know songs from their youth better than current pop songs on the airwaves. Does this mean that music from this period is more likely to be connected to our autobiographical memories?



Do we really prefer songs from our youth?


A study investigated the presence of the musical reminiscence bump involving 470 adults between the ages of 18 to 82 years old. The study aimed to find out how a person’s age when a song was popular affected the mind. Mainly, the degree to which the song was associated with autobiographical memories, how familiar the song is to the participant, and how much they liked the song.


The participants were shown titles and artists of 111 pop songs featured in the charts across a 65 year period from 1950 to 2015.


The result of the study


It was found that music that climbed the charts during one’s adolescence was rated more familiar and was also connected with more autobiographical memories. The musical reminiscence bump peaked at around age 14. Popular songs evoked the most memories in participants around this age.


Older adults 40 years and above also liked songs from their teenage years compared to other songs. But younger adults from 18 to 40 did not follow this trend. They rated music from their adolescent years lower than music released before they were born. Some participants preferred music from the period before they were born, especially when it comes to songs from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.


So, it is true we often go back to listening to music from our youth. Not because we think they are better than music from another era. Rather it is because certain songs are closely linked to our personal memories.


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