MTV App Catfish: The TV Show The Challenge: Champs vs. Emerging artists you should get to know. MTV teenagers music video all related titles and logos are trademarks of Viacom International Inc. Why Are We So Nostalgic for Music We Loved as Teenagers?
You can find new stories here. Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers? As I plod through my 20s, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense. On an objective level, I know this makes no sense. Mark Joseph Stern covers courts and the law for Slate. Why do the songs I heard when I was teenager sound sweeter than anything I listen to as an adult? I’m happy to report that my own failures of discernment as a music critic may not be entirely to blame.
In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have confirmed that these songs hold disproportionate power over our emotions. To understand why we grow attached to certain songs, it helps to start with the brain’s relationship with 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. Slate Plus members can read a roundup of the music from high school that staffers still love. But memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music. Music lights these sparks of neural activity in everybody. But in young people, the spark turns into a fireworks show.
Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. On its own, these neurological pyrotechnics would be enough to imprint certain songs into our brain. But there are other elements at work that lock the last song played at your eighth-grade dance into your memory pretty much forever. We listen to the music they listen to as a badge, as a way of belonging to a certain social group.