I bet you know most of the songs from your childhood by heart. Yeah, I know — the trashy ones above all.
Here’s WHY you’ll remember the lyrics of your teenage love soundtrack till the moment you die, probably.
Especially when you wanna actually grasp (and remember) things you need in this cruel adult life.
Music-brain connection research has advanced in recent years.
Numerous studies suggest that our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults — a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age.
Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command.
And no matter how sophisticated our music buds might evolve over time, our brains are stuck with songs we were listening to in our childhood and adolescence.
To understand why we grow attached to certain songs, let’s start with the harmonious relationship between brain and music, in general.
When we first hear a song, it stimulates our auditory cortex and we convert the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies into a coherent whole.
From there, our reaction to music depends on how we interact with it.
Sing along to a song in your head, and you’ll activate your premotor cortex, which helps plan and coordinate movements.
Dance to it and your neurons will synchronize with the beat of the music.
So, this might be the reason you remember your first school recital choreography or why you instantly know how to do the Macarena.
If you take specific attention to the lyrics and the instrumentalization, you’ll activate your parietal cortex, which helps you shift and maintain attention to different stimuli. Listen to a song that triggers personal memories, and ta-da, prefrontal cortex, — which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships — lights up.
Yet, here’s the thing.
Any type of memory is actually meaningless without emotion. I’m sure you’ll approve of this one: aside from love, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music.
Why is this relevant to you knowing all Spice Girls hits twenty years after you’ve first randomly heard them?
Brain imaging studies show that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit. You get pretty hooked up to rewards and happy chemicals surge!
You must be familiar with these feel-good guys: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin — neurochemicals that make us frisky and energized.
The more we’re into a song we’ve been listening to over and over again, the stronger the neurochemical cocktail truly is. We’re jammed in it, pun intended.
Music lights sparks neural activity in every human being.
But with the youngsters, the spark is actually a million times bigger. It’s more like a firework show.
Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development — and the music we love or we’ve been exposed to during that decade is wired into our lobes for good.
When we make these neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes additionally weighted with emotion — thanks partly to a surge of growth hormones in puberty. These hormones literally command our brains that everything is incredibly important — especially the songs from our teenage years.
There may also be another factor in play: the reminiscence bump, a phenomenon that we remember so much of our younger adult lives more vividly than other years, and these memories last well into our adolescence.
Why are our memories from these years so vibrant and enduring?
Researchers at the University of Leeds proposed one enticing explanation in 2008: The years highlighted by the reminiscence bump coincide with “the emergence of a stable and enduring self.” The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you.
Music plays two roles in this process. First, some songs become memories. I’m sure many of us can vividly remember the first time we heard that one boyband song that, decades later, we still sing at karaoke night.
Second, some songs mark the period that felt like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music played during our first kiss, our prom, our first love-making even, gets attached to that memory and goes on to its’ eternity.
The nostalgia that accompanies our favorite songs isn’t just a fleeting recollection of earlier times; it’s a neurological wormhole that gives us a glimpse into the years when our brains leaped with joy at the music that’s come to define us.
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