Have a shared jam that floods your brain with happy thoughts? Perhaps it’s a particular memory brought to life at the peddle of a tune, a flash of pure joy. Whether it’s the roaring chorus of a time shared with mates or the delightful twinkle of a lover’s song shared, science says you’re unlikely to forget that feeling. Ever.
Our song. Two little syllables that can mean so much more than the letters that comprise them. Those songs are a type of autobiographical memory or ‘mental glue’ by which our brain recalls identity. In this case the shared identity, a couple or crew of pals, is activated by ‘potent stimuli’ or more affectionately known as the sweet caressing of musical touch. Music unites us from cognitive notes to real life experiences and imprints itself in our brains as such. So that’s why you’re not over your ex or your shared love of obscure indie rock bands.*
Don’t just cruise through your life to a soundtrack of pop tunes, the songs you play now during your youth are the most likely to be recalled in late life. At a time when most people are establishing their self identify (hello, yet to find myself entirely) this youth period is known as the “reminiscence bump”. Teens to early adulthood while we’re still finding our feet make for the most formative years in memory, the building blocks to how we remember ourselves. That’s why high school sweethearts are more likely to recall each other with fervour at the sound of a few bars. Even if those bars are a Yellowcard track that makes you feel very emo and old at the same time.
Although you may be years away from the perils of memory loss, this kind of memory recollection is so powerful it can reconnect those with deteriorating memory to themselves. In dementia in particular that ‘mental glue’ I spoke of earlier, holds together longer than other memories in a fragile mind. A study by researchers at The University of California noted 30% of widely known pop songs played to participants evoked a memory response and high levels of nostalgia across participants. And local scientists at Macquarie University found recently that music evoked a stronger response than photographs in Alzheimer’s patients, acting as a match thrown into kindling and igniting memories with furore.
So there’s science to back up that track from 2007 that makes you think of schoolies, or the track that surrounded your first, wet, sloppy, messy, (in hindsight totally gross) kiss, making you feel infectiously giddy. Go forth and curate a playlist to surround sound your existence with tunes worth remembering. No one wants to recall their youth to a Nickelback song.
* Not a scientific fact, but it feels real ok?!
Image source: Splendour In The Grass.