The real reason you start to hate new music as you grow older

Finding it harder and harder to appreciate new music? Psychologists say there’s a very good reason we’re all stuck in the past when it comes to our playlists…

The reasons why we love, appreciate and enjoy listening to music may be one of the greatest mysteries of all time. While we may have some clues to why music can make us feel a certain way, we’re still very much in the dark as to why – and how – music can make us feel those strong emotions in the first place.

And it’s those strong emotions which lead us to build such long-lasting connections to the songs, albums and artists that then accompany us throughout our lives, especially those we connect with during our tumultuous teenage years. For some reason, the songs we listen to in our youth are often the ones that stick with us – as we grow older, we’re less likely to listen to the newer, chart-approved songs and more likely to reminisce over the music we once knew.

But why is this? When do we suddenly stop having the ability to like new things? Recent research might just hold the answer. 

Science has already shown that our music tastes begin to form as early as the age of 13 or 14. According to a 2018 study from The New York Times, by our early 20s, we’re pretty much set on what we do and don’t like music wise, and new research has proven that we actually tend to stop listening to new music by the time we reach 30. 

However, this isn’t the only reason why we’re unlikely to move with the times when it comes to our music tastes. In fact, it could all be down to one of the most researched laws of social psychology: the mere exposure effect.

“In a nutshell, it means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we tend to like it,” Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology, writes in The Conversation. “This happens with people we know, the advertisements we see, and, yes, the songs we listen to.”

McAndrew also points out that as we get older, we’re less likely to have the time to spend discovering and listening to new music – meaning we’re more likely to listen to our older tunes, exposing ourselves to them on an increasing basis and therefore increasing our tendency to like the old music even more.

“For many people over 30, job and family obligations increase, so there’s less time to spend discovering new music. Instead, many will simply listen to old, familiar favourites from that period of their lives when they had more free time,” McAndrew explains.

So that’s decided then: when our parents moan about all the “modern music” they happen to hate, they’re not doing it just to spite you. There’s a scientific reason why we all tend to prefer the music we know and love opposed to the newer stuff – after all, we all love a bit of comfort every so often. 

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