The Music From Our 20s Elicits The Strongest Emotional Response

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

Teenagers and parents often disagree about many things, especially when it comes to tastes in music. While the music of an older generation might not always be relevant to the new school, a recent study from Cornell University says that young adults remember music from their parents’ generation almost as fondly as music from their own adolescence.

This, says lead researcher Lynne Krumhansl, proves music can form an emotional bond which spans generations. She also suggests, however, that the music of bygone eras, particularly the music from the Baby Boomer generation, may truly be of higher quality. The study is published in the journal Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading ‘reminiscence bumps,’” explains Krumhansl, a professor of psychology at Cornell University.

“These new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment.”

However, the music listened to during a person’s 20s evokes the most vivid emotional responses. This can easily be observed by the number of bands which cover songs of a certain era about 20 years later. Krumhansl’s research team was surprised, however, to find that songs which were released before a study participant was born also elicited a spike in emotional response.

Krumhansl and her research partner, Justin Zupnick with the University of California, Santa Cruz, asked 62 college-aged volunteers to listen to the top-20 Billboard hits from 1955 to 2009. The volunteers were then asked to describe the emotional response they had to these songs, be it happy, sad or otherwise. The participants also listed which songs conjured up memories for them, including where they were when they heard the song, who they were with and what point in their life they were in when the song was at its peak popularity.

Krumhansl and Zupnick were not surprised to note that the songs with the highest emotional response, or a “reminiscence bump,” were released when the participant was between the ages of 20 and 25 years old. What did take the researchers by surprise, however, was the number of reminiscence bumps which showed up for songs which were popular when the participants’ parents were of the same age.

For instance, many of the songs to which volunteers said they had an emotional reaction were released in the 1980s, when their parents were also experiencing the exciting changes of young adulthood.

While the music released during late adolescence and early adulthood have the most significant impact on our memories, says the research, any music heard during youth can conjure up strong emotional responses.

Even though the participants were college-aged, the researchers noticed a second reminiscence bump for music from the 1960s, the era of their grandparents. While it’s entirely likely the music from this era, including genre defining artists such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, was listened to during a young person’s earliest days, Krumhansl and Zupnick have suggested that the music from this era was simply better than most modern music.

The research team is currently hosting an online survey in an attempt to amass a larger data sample from the public.

“It will be fascinating to see if we can trace intergenerational influences back through more generations, better understand the ‘sixties’ bump,’ and look for effects of the vast changes in music technology that have occurred over the last century,” says Krumhansl.