Why do humans prefer one style of music over another? Have you ever stopped to wonder how we develop our individual tastes in music? One could assume that our preferences are set because of the likes of those around us and we go with the consensus, but there’s actually much more to it than this. There are musical memory lanes everyone walks and it is something in our experiences that sets certain types of music or specific songs in our memories for life.
When our music preferences are set
The year that we are born serves as an indicator of the kinds of music we are most likely to prefer over others.This is because to some degree, the adolescent period of life is a formative period during which we develop deep connections with music. Coming in second, our early twenties are a time when we form bonds with music, but not as strongly.
Why is adolescence such a pivotal time?
On a psychological level, we form these early associations partly because of the rush of hormones that are surging through our bodies. These make us more emotional and susceptible to finding meaning in the words, rhythms and tones of the songs that we listen to. We form a psychological connection that is forever stored in the memory banks of our brains. This is why as older adults, we can hear an old favorite from this time period and it will jog memories that give us euphoric feelings and musings of times past. We recall pleasant events from our youth, although most of us aren’t aware of all the complex processes that are taking place at the time. All we know is that an old song can bring a smile to our faces and make us remember, complete with emotions we felt in the past.
The sense of self
From the adolescent years forward, we are learning more about ourselves and developing a personal sense of identity. Music has an influence on this process. It can inspire us to pursue a variety of lifestyles or give us peace, strength, courage and so forth. Young adults are more highly reactive to music because they are in a formative stage of development where cognitive functions of the brain are more quickly stimulated. This is very much a chemical response that occurs without any knowledge that it is happening. Hearing a song you like stimulates neurotransmitters to respond, creating a cerebral reaction to the music that involves the pleasure circuit o the brain. As the brain releases serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, it’s close to receiving a feel good drug because it alters and enhances a sense of well-being. It’s no wonder that we form such strong associations with certain songs and feeling good. What exists as an intense sensation in teens and early twenties fades to a pleasant memory as we age, but there is still a chemical response that makes us feel good for the moment.
Why is age a factor?
When a person is younger, hormonal releases are more intense, therefore the brain reactions follow suit. In essence, young people have sharper and more keen senses and responses to stimuli. As a natural part of the aging process, the physiology goes through a dulling and slowing process. Those with a better sense of hearing are best able to detect small tonal differences and nuances in the music that an older person with less of a hearing range may miss. Young people are better inclined to take it all in while the older only get bits and pieces of the music.
Since connections are so strongly formed with certain songs we hear when we’re younger, and we are in the process of building our self-identity at the time we form these connections, we associate a big part of our selves with the music. In short, the music becomes a part of us and we identify it as such. We reflect on important events that are tied in with the songs that were playing when they happened. Most of all, we are permanently hooked on the songs that made us feel good. or better or worse, the music that we were exposed to, that enhanced the feel good emotions are usually a part of us for the rest of our lives.