Have you ever started singing along or tapping when the radio plays a song that was in the charts when you were a child. Turning the volume to an obnoxious level, even when you know the song isn’t that great, and probably wasn’t in the first place. (Any McFly song that comes on, I will 100% do this to). Well, we, by ‘we’ I mean scientists; may have discovered the very reasons why this happens and why we have such a connection with these ‘throwback’ songs.
Music nostalgia or the phenomenon of prescribing special value to a song that came out during an important part of our lives, is legitimately a neurological occurrence.
Slate’s ‘Mark Joseph Stern’ starts by discussing the way music interacts with the brain to stimulate various neural locations:
“Sing along to a song in your head, and you’ll activate your premotor cortex, which helps plan and coordinate movements. Dance along, and your neurons will synchronize with the beat of the music. Pay close attention to the lyrics and instrumentation, and you’ll activate your parietal cortex, which helps you shift and maintain attention to different stimuli.”
The relationship between music and the human nervous system is, in fact, so complex that it constitutes an entire scientific field: the cognitive neuroscience of music. According to Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain On Music, listening to certain music can have a significant impact on our brain chemistry, including the way we feel both physically and mentally. When we listen to our favourite songs, our brains release dopamine, a pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter. Many of our favourite songs are chosen when our personalities (and thus our musical tastes) are coalescing, which principally happens between the ages of 12 and 22. that’s not to say that personality development can’t occur after 22, however during those 10 years of which it is stated, a lot of things change with your body psychically and mentally and you start to figure out who you really are.
Music can also influence the way we recall memories. In 1999, Schulkind, Hennis, and Rubins documented the power of music to bring back specific memories. Since many of our “firsts” (first swig of alcohol, first school dance, first kiss, first time we get the courage to hold someone else’s hand, and so on) occur during our teens, and because so many of those moments are, by their nature, accompanied by music of some kind, those memories can get linked pretty strongly with the songs themselves. For example sk8r boi by Avril Lavgine was played at the school dance when a boy asked me, wait no, and got his friend to ask me to be his girlfriend. (Being the strong independent 9 year old I was, I declined).
But despite having all these fancy words and scientific reasons behind it all, the only thing that really matters is the feeling you get when listening to the song. When the first chord strikes and you know exactly what the song is and are ready to sing every word, not missing a beat. These songs bring back wonderful memories which you’ll never forget. Maybe it reminds you of the first time you heard that boyband, and from then on your love for them drove you insane, or the time when you met someone who changed your life, for good or bad reasons. Whatever it is, we can thank music for being there through all these moments, and being able to project the feelings we’re unable to convey ourselves.
So next time you hear a song that takes you back to a fond memory, write the song title down, or delve deeper into the playlist of your mind and memories.