Adults Smile to Their Teenage Tunes

It wouldn’t be such a big stretch to assume that a 60-year-old has a vastly different music selection on his or her mobile device than a 30-year-old. It’s also not so uncommon for youngers to overhear their elders complain about the mumbo-jumbo blasting from the “Today’s Hits” radio playlist, oftentimes citing how the prior generation’s music was of the most note–unlike the noisy nonsense bands like 5 Seconds of Summer produce today.

But, it wouldn’t be so surprising to browse through both the 30-year-old and 60-year-old’s downloaded tracks and stumble upon some selections that date to their respective high school years.

Whether it’s the Spice Girls or Bad Religion, Less Than Jake or TLC, there are probably some old songs you put on your playlist for nostalgia’s sake.

Personally, listening to songs from 2005 (the Emo-Goth pivot) leaves me unhinged with childish emotion. It was within the years of this musical epoch that I began to develop wiry pubic hair that would only be complemented by acne that was not-so-on-fleek. During this hormonal transformation, I was confused about my body and who I was becoming, but confident in the greatness of My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday. The music from my pubescent days was the only factor that–I felt–truly engrained me into any given social setting, or identity.

The reasoning behind the strong musical inclination that occurs during this tender age had never wholly been inspected until recently. Research indicates that the rapid neurological development teens undergo during their awkward puberty states (like my own) correlates with an enhanced emotional experience. Hence, the songs we love during our blossoming years seem all the more meaningful.

Regardless of genre preference, most of the abiding tunes from our teen years are intertwined within our frontal brain lobes as good, intrinsic happiness triggers. Research Psychologist Daniel J. Levitin delved into the inquiry of how music from our teen years stays a source of happiness throughout our lives. He recorded the findings into his book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.

“We are discovering music on our own for the first time when we’re young,” Levitin has been cited saying, “often through our friends. We listen to the music they listen to as a badge, as a way of belonging to a certain social group. That melds the music to our sense of identity.”

Levitin also found that in order to fully understand why we react so strongly to certain songs, we must look into how our brain take in music. After digesting each melody, lyric, and harmony, our brains compartmentalize each into specific areas within our auditory cortex, where many memories spring from.

Photo courtesy of Andra MIhali.

The psychological phenomenon may explain why most people would agree that music is an especially potent and pleasurable stimulant. So, in the future, when gramps is demanding to hear the sweet vocalization of Carol King, realize it’s not merely a suggestion, but rather a neurological demand.

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Truman State University and co-author of Trying to Be Happier Really Can Work, Yuna Ferguson finds music to be one of the utmost, easily accessible happiness generators on the market.

“Neuroimaging shows that music can trigger similar kinds of neurotransmitter activity as other pleasurable experiences,” Ferguson tells BTR. “Music may also energize us or calm us, which are both forms of positive moods. Surveys also show that people tend to distinguish the emotions expressed in music fairly reliably.”

Ferguson goes on to explain that the ways in which individuals consume music changes how they’ll perceive it later on in life. So, when we sing along to a song in our heads, we are actively stimulating our premotor cortex, which helps plan and coordinate movements. However, by dancing along to the tune, that causes our neurons to synchronize with the beat of the music. For those of us who study the lyrical arrangements and instrumentation, our parietal cortex is activated more readily, which assists us in shifting and direct attention to different stimuli.

“Research in memory shows that music from our youth triggers positive memories from the past,” Ferguson iterates. “When we form memories of personal events, we often take in our surroundings or the situation as well. Listening to music reminds us of what we were doing, and the people we were with, like being at a party with close friends.”

Her assessment makes sense. When we listen to tunes that trigger personal memories, our prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to one’s personal life and relationships, takes full force, usually igniting elated feelings relative to social interactions of our teeny bopper days. The social queue music of our teenage years played during our development stages is fundamentally intertwined with the ways we perceived ourselves during the first glimpses of our identities.

It’s sad, for it seems no music past that formative age will truly strike us as so heavily inspirational. Yet, no matter how old and mature we may become, music will always be an escape mechanism to elevate our emotive feels and bridge us back to happier, more carefree times.