The psychological reasons why you don't forget the songs you listened to as a teenager

ShutterstockThere’s a reason you love that Throwback Thursday playlist.
  • People tend to enjoy listening to songs they heard while growing up.
  • It may be more than just nostalgia.
  • As teenagers, our bodies are full of hormones and intense feelings.
  • This means we can latch on to songs more than we do when we’re older.
  • But there could also be an evolutionary explanation – being popular helped our distant ancestors survive.
  • The result is never forgetting a song you heard when you were young.

When I think back to being a teenager, music is a vivid part of the memories. Certain songs and artists take me back to school, friendships, parties, and even remind me of the intense, angsty emotions I left behind long ago.

Not only did I leave behind strong feelings in my youth, but also, apparently, the ability to appreciate new music.

Earlier this year, a survey by Deezer found that people tend to stop listening to new songs and artists by age 30. One reason for this is because between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains go through a lot of changes. We’re incredibly hormonal and sensitive, so if we hear a song we really love, it’s more likely to stay with us forever.

When we hear songs we like later in life, it might not elicit the same strong response because we aren’t such sponges anymore.

We also often turn to music when we want to shut off from the world. And this can happen when we’re particularly angry, upset, or generally having a lot of feelings. During puberty and the devastating relationship woes that come with growing up, music was likely a big part of helping you through it all.


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When economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analysed Spotify data, he found that if you were in your early teens when a song was first released, it will be more popular among your age group a decade later. Radiohead’s “Creep,” for example, is a favourite among 38-year-old men, but it doesn’t even reach the top 300 songs for those born 10 years earlier or later.

Similarly, an article in Quartz explains why people in my generation – the millennials – will always remember Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe.”

“We’re evolutionarily primed to take in a lot more social and emotional information during our teenage years than in other part of our life,” wrote author Katherine Ellen Foley. “It’s why your ultimate throwback playlist really depends on when you were in the throes of adolescence.”

Earlier on in human evolution, the teenage years were where people tried to find mates. Behavioural adaptations we make to be popular and liked at this age may be strongly linked to that.

For example, listening to the same songs as everyone else helps to solidify your social standing in the group.

I never particularly liked “Call Me Maybe.” It didn’t stop me hearing it everywhere. Sometimes, it’s just easier to pretend you like something that everyone else is singing, wearing, or watching.

We tried to fit in with a group back at school, so we collected as much social ammunition as possible to make sure everyone else knew we were relevant.

Although it seems less important in adulthood, when you’ve had more time to work out who you are, the connection is obviously hard to shake.

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