Psychological scientist and lead researcher Carol Lynne Krumhansl of Cornell University said that these new findings point to the impact of music in childhood and likely reflect the prevalence of music in the home environment.
The study revealed that 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 also evokes vivid memories.
The researchers wanted to see 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 data 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.
But the more surprising finding 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.
The study is published in Psychological Science.