Evolution of Sound Part II – An Evolution of Taste


A recent study confirms that there is a common musical genre associated with the key stages in human life. Published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers say the study is the first to comprehensively document the ways people engage with music from adolescence to middle age.

One of the findings is that music stays important to people as they grow older, but the music they like adapts to the particular life challenges they are facing at different stages of their lives. It seems that a person’s taste in music changes to meet their social and psychological needs. Though some people might find it hard to admit – using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period – the study shows that our taste in music softens (gasp!) as we get older.

The researchers present a theory that, first of all, people come to music to define themselves and to experiment with their identity. It is then followed by using music as a social vehicle to establish a group and to find a mate, and later as a more solitary expression of our intellect, status and greater emotional understanding.

“The project started with a common conception that musical taste does not evolve after young adulthood. Most academic research to date supported this claim, but – based on other areas of psychological research and our own experiences – we were not convinced this was the case,” said Arielle Bonneville-Roussy, the research leader from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.

The study determined that the first great musical age is adolescence. It is defined by a short, sharp burst of ‘intensity’ and the start of a steady climb of ‘contemporary’. ‘Intense’ music – such as punk and metal – peaks in adolescence and declines in early adulthood, while music such as pop and rap begins a rise that stays stable until early middle age.

Dr Jason Rentfrow, a senior researcher explains that ”Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity, and music is a cheap, effective way to do this.”

The researchers explain further in their report that as ‘intense’ music gives way to the rising tide of ‘contemporary’ and introduction of ‘mellow’ – such as electronic and R & B – in early adulthood, the next musical age emerges. These two “preference dimensions” are considered “romantic, emotionally positive and danceable.”  

“Once people overcome the need for autonomy, the next ‘life challenge’ concerns finding love and being loved – people who appreciate this ‘you’ that has emerged,” said Rentfrow.

As we move on and middle age begins to creep in, the last musical age, is dominated by ‘sophisticated’ – such as jazz and classical, from Mozart and Beethoven to Wagner and Strauss – and ‘unpretentious’ – such as country, folk and blues.  

“As we settle into ourselves, there are aspects of wanting to promote social status, intellect and wealth that play into the increased gravitation towards ‘sophisticated’ music,” said Rentfrow. “At the same time, for many this life stage is frequently exhausted by work and family, and there is a requirement for relaxing, emotive music for those down times”.  

Now here comes the dilemma. While I do see some points in it, yet my taste in music hasn’t changed much since my teenage years. And the study is backed up by such significant data. What’s your opinion on this one?

As published by www.primephonic.com on 27 May 2015

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