Neural Nostalgia: Why We Love the Music We Heard As Teenagers

As we age, the music we loved as teenagers means more than ever. Why do the songs we heard in high school sound better than anything we listen to as adults? I recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have confirmed that these songs hold disproportionate power over our emotions. Researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests that our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we hear as adults — a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia isn’t just a cultural phenomenon; it’s a neuronic command. No matter how sophisticated our tastes might otherwise grow to be, our brains may stay jammed on those songs we obsessed over during the high drama of adolescence. 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. When we listen to a song that triggers personal memories, our prefrontal cortex will spring into action, releasing an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. The more we like a song, the more we get treated to neurochemical bliss. As fun as these theories may be, the logical conclusion that you’ll never love another song the way you loved the music of your youth is a little depressing.