Music brings our brain to a state of nostalgia, especially the 2000s music of our adolescence.
Even though the music industry is more diverse than ever, we still find ourselves hitting replay on the tracks of the last decade—“Ms. Jackson” by Outkast, “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne and any song by Alicia Keys.
Nothing was off limits in the early 2000s, it was the time to be experimental. The age of “scandalous” popstars, punk-rock blondes with pink hair extensions and my personal favorite, chart-topping R&B hits such as “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child and “Foolish” by Ashanti.
Associating music with good moments is common, creating a source of nostalgia, but why does the nostalgia run so deep?
Nostalgia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.” Research done by Nature Neuroscience shows music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards involving the release of dopamine. These sporadic releases of dopamine are what make us feel pleasure and satisfaction when listening to music. This occurrence applies to music in a general sense, but your brain can react differently to tracks from certain eras.
The spark of neural activity that spawns from jamming to our favorite song resonates in everybody. Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good, according to researchers at Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital.
These unforgettable tunes spark our brain activity and keep us locked in lasting nostalgia well after our teenage years. When we begin to associate songs with neural functions, our brains naturally develop a long-term memory that is paired with high strung emotions due to our hormones. These hormones tell our cerebrums that everything we are encountering and remembering is important—particularly music that shapes our adolescence.
According to a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, our brains shift certain songs in a position to hold disproportionate power over our emotions. Our neurons will actually “synchronize with the beat of the music.” The study concludes the rhythm of songs activate your parietal cortex, which helps operate your ability to experience different stimuli. Listening to a song that hails from the past specifically triggers your prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships.
“A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved,” said Professor Elizabeth Margulis, author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, in an interview with Mic. The songs that once seemed like the rambling of teenage thoughts or the radical sounds of young adults are sentimental for a reason: When we listen to them it is more than just relatability. It’s an experience with the sounds that were there for us.
Musical nostalgia isn’t just a cultural phenomenon; it’s a neural experience. Regardless of how mature we develop, our brains will continue to link the music of our past with memories. Our brain won’t let us forget the adolescent days of unnecessary attitude and ridiculous hairstyles.