Music makes people nostalgic, it has long been said that music can bring us back to specific points in time.  Young adults surveyed recently are even fond of and have an emotional connection to the music that was popular for their parents' generation, says a new psychology paper. 

While songs that were popular in our early 20s seem to have the greatest lasting emotional impact, music that was popular during our parents' younger days- and likely what they played around kids - also evokes vivid memories. 

Carol Lynne Krumhansl and Justin Adam Zupnick asked 62 college students to listen to two top Billboard hits per year from 1955 to 2009. The researchers wanted to know which periods of music were most memorable for the participants, 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 amongst friends.

The survey results revealed that participants' personal memories associated with songs increased steadily as they got older, from birth until the present day. This finding makes sense – we recall more recent songs better, ascribe memories to them more easily, and feel a stronger emotional connection with them.

The more surprising finding to the scholars was a drastic bump in memories, recognition, perceived quality, liking, and emotional connection with the music that was popular in the early 1980s, when the participants' parents were about 20-25 years old. That is, participants seemed to demonstrate a particular affinity for the songs their parents were listening to as young adults.

Previous research has shown that the music we encounter during late adolescence and early adulthood has the greatest impact on our lives but these findings suggest that the music played throughout childhood can also leave a lasting impact.

And there was another, albeit smaller, 'reminiscence bump' for the music of the 1960s – more than two decades before the participants were born. Krumhansl and Zupnick speculate 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.

Another possibility, one that might be favored by those of the Baby Boomer generation, is that the music of the 1960s is truly of higher quality - timeless.

"Music transmitted from generation to generation shapes autobiographical memories, preferences, and emotional responses, a phenomenon we call cascading 'reminiscence bumps,'" explains psychologist and lead author Carol Lynne Krumhansl of Cornell University. "These new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment."

The researchers are launching a web-based survey to explore these questions further. 

Citation: Carol Lynne Krumhansl, Justin Adam Zupnick, 'Cascading Reminiscence Bumps in Popular Music', Psychological Science September 4, 2013 doi: 10.1177/0956797613486486