Favourite pop songs are likely chart songs from when you were 14

Our favourite song is from when we were 14, study finds, as scientists reveal ‘reminiscence bump’ peaks in early adolescence

  • Age 14 is when we make strongest musical connection, researchers discovered
  • It is because records playing on radio get entwined with major teen life events 
  • Songs bring memories flooding back in what’s known as ‘reminiscence bump’ 

Your favourite pop songs are most likely to be the ones in the charts when you were 14, a study has found.

Researchers discovered this is the age we make the strongest musical connection because the records playing on the radio get entwined with major life events in our formative teenage years.

The songs bring vivid memories flooding back in what is known as a ‘reminiscence bump’ – which scientists suggest could play a key role in caring for dementia patients.

Academics from Durham University assembled 470 people aged between 18 and 82 and asked them to rate 111 songs in the charts between 1950 and 2015.

Your favourite pop songs are most likely to be the ones in the charts when you were 14, a study has found

They were then asked whether they were familiar with each song, whether they liked it and whether it brought back any memories from their past.

The study, published in the Music & Science journal, found ‘a reminiscence bump in adolescence (peaking around age 14) for both ratings of the autobiographical salience of songs featured in the charts during that period and the familiarity of these songs’.

The researchers said: ‘This suggests that memories that are central to one’s sense of identity are often inextricably associated with music.

‘This may be related… to the common tradition of coupling music with significant life events and the increased consumption and value placed on music during key periods of identity formation in adolescence.’

Memories from that period also tend to be ‘recalled more accurately, more vividly, and rated as more important’.

The study added: ‘It is also a time containing many memories of novel experiences, which may be encoded more deeply and rehearsed more frequently, and… biological and hormonal changes… may be involved too.

‘Older adults prefer, remember more about, and report stronger emotional responses to pop music released during their reminiscence bump.’

The reminiscence bump refers to the observation that older adults tend to disproportionately recall memories from when they were aged ten to 30 compared with other periods. 

The paper’s authors added: ‘This finding suggests that using musical or word cues with Alzheimer’s disease might be particularly effective for bringing back memories from adolescence.’

Previous studies have shown music may reduce agitation and improve behavioural issues common in the middle stages of the disease. Even in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to tap a beat or sing lyrics from their childhood.

An NHS report in 2018 hailed the benefits of music in caring for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

It said ‘withdrawn and apathetic’ patients had been ‘brought back to life’ by listening to their favourite music.

From Sinatra to Nirvana – what they loved at 14 (and still do to this day) 

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, 63, said the songs of his youth, particularly Motown classics, are still his favourites today. 

He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘It was a bit before I was 14. I think I was 12 when I bought Stevie Wonder’s Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday. 

‘Another favourite was Edwin Starr’s War. The songs you liked when you were growing up stay with you.’

Oscar-winning songwriter Don Black, 82, behind hits such as Born Free, said: ‘All the records from my youth trigger instant precious memories. I can’t hear a Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, or Alma Cogan record without feeling like a teenager again.’

Oscar-winning songwriter Don Black , 82, behind hits such as Born Free, said: ‘All the records from my youth trigger instant precious memories. I can’t hear a Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra (pictured), or Alma Cogan record without feeling like a teenager again’

Labour MP Jess Phillips, 39, said she still loves the same songs by US rock bands that she first heard as a teenager. 

The Shadow Home Office Minister said: ‘I was a massive fan of Nirvana and Pearl Jam then and those songs I still listen to all the time. I always say that 14 was the best year of my life.’

Labour MP Jess Phillips , 39, said she still loves the same songs by US rock bands that she first heard as a teenager. The Shadow Home Office Minister said: ‘I was a massive fan of Nirvana [above] and Pearl Jam then and those songs I still listen to all the time. I always say that 14 was the best year of my life’

Oscar-winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice, 76, whose hits include Evita, said: ‘My taste has barely altered since my 14th birthday. 

‘I seem to remember my party in 1958 the place to be thanks to Ricky Nelson’s Poor Little Fool, the Everlys’ Bird Dog and Rave On by Buddy Holly.

‘I still hold all these close to my heart. They sound better on vinyl than online.’

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