Nostalgia for a Time you never experienced

You might have heard the quote of L.P.Hartley from the novel The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” There will always be something about the music that our grandparents and parents would listen to when we were children. They bring a keen sense of nostalgia for a time that we didn’t experience. The music of our grandparents’ and parents’ youth.

When we are in our middle or late adulthood we seem to find a great pleasure in the music of our youth. Something that is called a reminiscence bump. A tendency for older adults to have increased recollection for events and memories that seemed to have occurred in their twenties ( adolescence and early adulthood). But what about the music of our grandparents’ and parents’ adolescence and early adulthood?  To the psychological scientist and lead researcher Carol Lynne Krumhansl of Cornell University, this phenomena is called cascading reminiscence bump. In an article published on psychologicalscience he put it “Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading ‘reminiscence bumps,’”

In reminiscence bump we tend to develop an affection toward our adolescence and early adulthood mostly because it reminds us of a time that can be considered as easy and most importantly NEW. We experience things whose prevalence affect our remaining life and help us to shape a perspective other than just referring them as either BLACK or WHITE. But in cascading reminiscence bump we not only resonate to the events from our own youth but the events from our grandparents and parents youth but as a form of musical memory.

To explore the connection between autobiographical memories and musical memories, Carol Lynne Krumhansl and Justin Zupnick of the University of California asked 62 college-age participants to listen to two top Billboard hits per year from 1955 to 2009. These participants then had to decide which songs conjured up the strongest feelings, and which ones made the participants happy, sad, energized, or nostalgic. In addition, participants were asked whether they remembered listening to the song by themselves, with their parents, or with friends.

Other than being abounded by the music of their current time (as they were all in their early adulthood), the researchers were surprised to see the participants were also emotionally connected with the music that was popular in the early 1980s when the participants’ parents were about 20-25 years old or even younger. Krumhansl and Zupnick theorized that the music of 1980’s were the music of these participants’ childhood and for this reason they demonstrate a particular affinity for the songs their parents were listening to as young adults.

And there was another smaller reminiscence bump for the music of the 1960s. Krumhansl and Zupnick speculated that reminiscence for this music could have been transmitted from the participants’ grandparents, who would have been in their 20s or 30s in the 1960s.

There will always be something about the static noise of a radio, an intro or end music of a TV program or a song from a long past that would be adored. As if we were there and experienced the ’80’s neon utopia’ with our own eyes and ears. As a beings of a future that never took place we’ll always be here and we’ll be nostalgic for a time we never experienced.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels


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