This study from the University of Cambridge, published in the Daily Mail, shows that musical tastes do change over a lifetime. Of course, there are many young people who already like classical music at a young age…
Rock of Ages: Taste in music DOES change over a lifetime – and even punk-loving teens will listen to classical music in middle age
- British scientists found tastes shift in line with ‘key life challenges’
- Teenagers like ‘intense’ music, while those in early adulthood opt for ‘contemporary’ and ‘mellow’ choices as they search for close relationships
- The study by the University of Cambridge, used data from more than a quarter of a million people over a 10 year period
PUBLISHED: 15:02, 15 October 2013 | UPDATED: 15:08, 15 October 2013
The study found that, unsurprisingly, the first great musical age is adolescence, which is defined by a short, sharp burst of ‘intense’ music
Plenty of teenagers might claim they will love One Direction forever or will never want to borrow a classical CD from their parents, but British scientists have found certain music genres are associated with five key stages in a human life.
Music stays important to people as they age but what they listen to is chosen to suit particular ‘life challenges’ they face and meet social and psychological needs, the researchers said.
They confirmed what may people have thought for a while – teenagers have little taste in music and what we listen to gets more boring as we grow older.
Researchers at Cambridge University have identified five broad categories of musical taste during a person’s life.
They believe humans use music to experiment with identity and define themselves and then as a social vehicle to establish a group and find a mate, before using it to express their intellect, status and greater emotional understanding.
The study suggests that unless people take the Who’s advice and die before they get old, their taste in music will probably change to meet their social and psychological needs.
Researchers said the study, published in the journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is the first to ‘comprehensively document’ the ways people engage with music ‘from adolescence to middle age’.
Using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period, researchers divided musical genres into five broad categories they call the MUSIC model – mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, contemporary – and plotted the patterns of preference across age-groups.
THE FIVE STAGES
- The first is the ‘intense’ period when punk or metal dominates adolescence as teens explore their own identity.
- After that listeners gravitate towards ‘contemporary’ electronic and R&B music which reflects the autonomy of early adulthood.
- That phase of ‘romantic, emotionally positive and danceable’ music gives way to a ‘Mellow’ period as listeners search for love and start families.
- Following that is the ‘sophisticated’ age of jazz and classical pieces.
- And finally as we mature and lose the need for peer approval we become more inclined to ‘unpretentious’ music such as country and folk.
These five categories incorporate multiple genres that share common musical and psychological traits – such as loudness and complexity.
The study found that, unsurprisingly, the first great musical age is adolescence, which is defined by a short, sharp burst of ‘intense’ 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 ‘contemporary’ music such as pop and rap begins a rise that plateaus until early middle age.
Dr Jason Rentfrow, senior researcher on the study, said: ‘Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity, and music is a cheap, effective way to do this.’
‘”Intense’ music, seen as aggressive, tense and characterised by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period’s key life challenges.’
As ‘intense’ 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,’ the researchers wrote.
Dr Rentfrow said: ‘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.’
‘What we took away from the results is that these forms of music reinforce the desire for intimacy and complement settings where people come together with the goal of establishing close relationships – parties, bars, clubs and so on.
‘Whereas the first musical age is about asserting independence, the next appears to be more about gaining acceptance from others.’
As people settle down and middle age begins to creep in, the last musical age, as identified by the researchers, is dominated by ‘sophisticated’ music, such as jazz and classical and ‘unpretentious’ tunes, such as country, folk and blues.
The researchers said both these dimensions are seen as ‘positive and relaxing’ with ‘sophisticated’ music indicating the complex aesthetic of high culture that could be linked to social status and perceived intellect, while ‘unpretentious’ echoes sentiments of family, love and loss – emotionally direct music that speaks to the experiences most will have had by this life stage.
Dr Rentfrow said: ‘As we settle into ourselves and acquire more resources to express ourselves – career, home, family, car – music remains an extension of this and at this stage there are aspects of wanting to promote social status, intellect and wealth that play into the increased gravitation towards ‘sophisticated’ music, as social standing is seen as a key life challenge to be achieved by this point.
‘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 rare down times that reflects the other major life challenge of this stage – that of nurturing a family and maintaining long-term relationships – perhaps the hardest of all.’
Arielle Bonneville-Roussy from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, who led the study, said: ‘Due to our very large sample size, gathered from online forms and social media channels, we were able to find very robust age trends in musical taste.
‘I find it fascinating to see how seemingly trivial behaviour such as music listening relates to so many psychological aspects, such as personality and age.’