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Whether you're a Beyonce fan or faithfully following Phish- your personal taste in music is probably all linked to your memories.

Hosted by: Olivia Gordon
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Olivia: Have you been getting in formation with Beyonce lately? Or maybe you’re more of a Deadhead and think the 70s were the peak of music? A lot of debates about a so-called golden age of music come down to personal taste.

But can science help explain where your music taste comes from? According to some psychology research, it’s probably linked to your memories of different songs, so there’s not just one era of timeless tunes. Developmental psychologists have noticed that the memories you form as a young adult tend to stay more detailed, even as you get older. So, in the late 1990s, some researchers wanted to see if this pattern was also true for memories of music, and if that affected people’s music tastes.

To do that, they collected a library of songs, with one that was popular in each year from 1935 to 1994. Then, they rounded up some elderly people and college students, played them 20 seconds of each song, and asked if they had heard it before, if they had any memories related to it, and whether they liked it. The older group liked the songs that were popular when they were -- teenagers best, while M.C. Hammer wasn’t exactly their cup of tea. That’s basically what the psychologists expected.

But the younger group was kind of surprising. They liked the songs from their teenage years best, but they also recognized and liked popular songs from the late 1960s – before they were even born. At the time, the researchers argued that the late 1960s was the golden age of music, since even the kids with their newfangled grunge were listening to those songs.

Case closed, right? Well... not exactly. Good science means trying to replicate results. So if that was the golden age, other psychologists would see it if they ran the study again.

A decade later, some researchers did just that, using audio clips from the top two singles from the 1955 to 2009 year-end Billboard charts. They only tested college students, and found a similar pattern. Only this time, the golden age seemed to be in the early 1980s, not the late 1960s.

These psychologists drew a different conclusion, though, because they also asked how old the students' parents were. And the golden age songs were from when their parents would’ve been teenagers. Somehow the parents were passing their music tastes onto their kids, but it's not like there's a “funk” gene or a “new wave” gene that you can inherit.

Instead, this is probably an example of the mere exposure effect: Basically, people report liking a thing more when they've seen or heard it before – whether it’s a song, or even just random shapes. And it’s especially true when they’re not paying close attention to the thing at first, like if parents played their favorite songs around their young children. So there probably never was – or will be – one golden age of music, but there’s likely a golden age for you.

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