A new U.K. study finds that the music we listened to between the ages of 10 and 30 defines us for the rest of our lives.
Researchers at the University of Westminster and City University of London in England say music from this period of our lives — which they call a “self-defining period” —connects us to the people, places, and times that are significant to our identities.
The study reveals that when people imagine themselves in isolation, they not only prefer music reminding them of a time when they were between the ages of 10 and 30, but also they are most likely to choose music that reminds them of an important person in their lives or an important turning point in their life as a powerful way to strengthen their sense of self.
To conduct the study, the researchers turned to Desert Island Discs, Britain’s longest running radio program. They asked 80 guests on the radio program to imagine they are being cast away to a desert island and can choose eight records to take with them.
The researchers then analyzed the responses to ascertain how people choose music that is important to them and whether they are more likely to select music from a particular time in their life.
Half of all musical choices were seen to be important between the ages of 10 and 30, a period that has been commonly known as the “reminiscence bump,” according to the researchers.
However, this new study reveals that it is more helpful to think of this period as a “self-defining period” because it is characterized by enduring memories that support our sense of who we are, the researchers said.
They suggest that listening to music is typically a key feature of this age and that music is intrinsically linked to the developing self.
The power of music in identity formation is well-demonstrated through the reasons why people selected certain records, the researchers said.
The most frequent reason for choosing a song (17 percent) was that it reminded the guest of their relationship with a specific person, such as a parent, partner, or a friend. That was followed by a memory of a period of time (16.2 percent),such as reminding someone of their childhood or “remembering playing this at home over and over again.”
The third most popular explanation for choosing a record was the song’s connection to specific memories relating to the formation of identity through life-changing moments (12.9 percent). This reason was given by Bruce Springsteen, who said that the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” inspired him to pick up the guitar and start a band.
“Guests frequently chose songs because they were related to important memories that occurred during teenage years,” said Professor Catherine Loveday, a neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster and lead researcher. “This extends previous findings by showing that music from this time has particular meaning, primarily because it relates to memories from this very important developmental period of our life.”
“Unlike previous studies, this study shows that this occurs even in a completely naturalistic setting, where people are not constrained by experimental settings and have a completely free rein on their musical choices,” she continued.
“Because the premise of the program is that people imagine themselves in isolation, this research has relevance to anyone who becomes isolated, including during lockdown measures in the current coronavirus pandemic, or who becomes displaced from their everyday environment, such as residents in care homes, refugees, or hospital patients,” she added.
The researchers are now working with an international team on a new study that invites people to create and share their own Deserts Island Disc experience. The survey will provide important new insights into the benefits of music and reminiscence, according to the researchers.
You can access the survey at InstrumentalJourneys.com/DIY-Desert-Island-Discs