Science Discovers Where Your Musical Taste Comes From

Musical Taste on Bobby Owsinski's Production BlogWe all have music that we love, and it seems like the older we get, the less likely we are to love what’s current. That’s because we tend to listen to less music by the time we hit our late 20s, but researchers think they’ve found the real real reason and time when our musical taste is formed.

Researchers have found that your musical taste comes primarily from your memories of songs, regardless of the era the song is from. That said, the memories that you form as a young adult (the prime music listening period) remain more detailed than latter in life.

In the 90s a group of researchers wanted to test this hypothesis so they collected a popular song from each era of music from 1935 to 1994. They then rounded up some senior citizens and college students, played them 20 seconds of each song, and asked them if they’d heard it before, had memories related to it, and if they liked it. The older group liked the songs from their youth, which was expected, but while the younger group liked the songs from their teenage years best, they also liked the songs from the 1960s. The researchers therefore concluded that the 1960s were the “golden age” of music.

Not so fast. Science is based on repeatable results, so another group of researchers ran the study again in the 2009 using the top 2 hits from 1955 to 2009. This time, only college students were tested and the results were much different. The so-called golden age was now based in the 1980s!

However the researchers didn’t stop there. They asked how old their parents were and discovered that the parents were teenagers in the 1980 favorite song period. Did the parents pass their musical taste onto their kids?

It turns out that’s not quite the case. The scientists concluded that the musical tastes come from the Mere-Exposure Effect. This is where people report liking something more simply because they’ve seen or heard it more. In other words, the more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it.

What this all means is that scientifically speaking, there’s no such thing as a golden age of music, and that your tastes are formed not only from what you hear as a teenager, but what you’re exposed to by your parents.

That’s actually not the answer I was expecting, but it makes total sense when you think about it.

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