A Yearning for Nostalgia: The psychology of music and the memories it evokes

We spend our days surrounded by music. It is undeniable that it affects people’s moods and emotions. But even more than that, it has the power to transport listeners to a very particular date, time, or event, especially ones we are experiencing for the first time such as a first kiss at a school dance, occur to some kind of musical backing track so when we hear those songs again, even years later, we will sometimes relive those moments vividly.

In 1999, psychologists Schulkind, Hennis, and Rubin conducted a series of experiments in which they played both old and new popular songs for college students and older adults. They found that songs frequently evoked memories. Sometimes the song would evoke general recollection - a memory from a period in the person’s life or a special someone, and other times songs brought to mind specific recollections of particular events.

Schulkind and his colleagues found that the more emotion a song generated for someone, the more likely the song would cue a memory. In addition, older songs more often evoked memories for the older participants whereas recent tunes brought memories to mind more often for the college students.

In the age of streaming music, Many listeners believe the changes in the way we listen to music have compressed the gap between hearing a song and feeling nostalgic about it. Whereas older generations became nostalgic about their teenage years in their 40s or 50s, people are now experiencing those same feelings in their late 20s and early 30s.

When it comes to the relationship between nostalgia and music, something researchers know for sure is that the music we listen will continue to be incredibly influential on us for the rest of our lives.

Written By Victoria Nelson 

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