Why do older people hate new music?

Summary: Researchers explore the psychology behind why older adults seem more averse to new popular music.

Source: The Conversation

When I was a teenager, my dad wasn’t terribly interested in the music I liked. To him, it just sounded like “a lot of noise,” while he regularly referred to the music he listened to as “beautiful.”.

This attitude persisted throughout his life. Even when he was in his 80s, he once turned to me during a TV commercial featuring a 50-year-old Beatles tune and said, “You know, I just don’t like today’s music.”

It turns out that my father isn’t alone.

As I’ve grown older, I’ll often hear people my age say things like “they just don’t make good music like they used to.”

Why does this happen?

Luckily, my background as a psychologist has given me some insights into this puzzle.

We know that musical tastes begin to crystallize as early as age 13 or 14. By the time we’re in our early 20s, these tastes get locked into place pretty firmly.

In fact, studies have found that by the time we turn 33, most of us have stopped listening to new music. Meanwhile, popular songs released when you’re in your early teens are likely to remain quite popular among your age group for the rest of your life.

There could be a biological explanation for this. There’s evidence that the brain’s ability to make subtle distinctions between different chords, rhythms and melodies gets worse with age. So to older people, newer, less familiar songs might all “sound the same.”

But I believe there are some simpler reasons for older people’s aversion to newer music. One of the most researched laws of social psychology is something called the “mere exposure effect.” In a nutshell, it means that the more we’re exposed to something, the more we tend to like it.

This happens with people we know, the advertisements we see and, yes, the songs we listen to.

When you’re in your early teens, you probably spend a fair amount of time listening to music or watching music videos. Your favorite songs and artists become familiar, comforting parts of your routine.

For many people over 30, job and family obligations increase, so there’s less time to spend discovering new music. Instead, many will simply listen to old, familiar favorites from that period of their lives when they had more free time.

Of course, those teen years weren’t necessarily carefree. They’re famously confusing, which is why so many TV shows and movies – from “Glee” to “Love, Simon” to “Eighth Grade” – revolve around the high school turmoil.

This is a drawing of a young person in head phones and an older looking person
For many older people, today’s music goes in one ear and out the other. The image is credited to The Conversation.

Psychology research has shown that the emotions that we experience as teens seem more intense than those that comes later. We also know that intense emotions are associated with stronger memories and preferences. All of this might explain why the songs we listen to during this period become so memorable and beloved.

So there’s nothing wrong with your parents because they don’t like your music. In a way, it’s all part of the natural order of things.

At the same time, I can say from personal experience that I developed a fondness for the music I heard my own children play when they were teenagers. So it’s certainly not impossible to get your parents on board with Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X.

About this neuroscience research article

The Conversation
Media Contacts:
Frank T. McAndrew – The Conversation
Image Source:
The image is credited to The Conversation.

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  1. People like what they like and hate what they don’t. Many people probably prefer the music of their adolescent years because of the nostalgia, music that imprinted during a time of social development and a relatively simpler time in their life, which has greatly influenced what music they connect to. People also generally dislike change and enjoy familiarity. Many people quite enjoy the music their parents listened to. If there is any resistance by parents, it’s usually because it’s too outside of their comfort zone or they associate certain music with negative stereotypes.

  2. I’m 28 years old, and it’s pretty evident that music over the past 20 years has become increasingly homogeneous in the mainstream. And you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to pick up on that.

    I know plenty of 60+ year olds that appreciate new music if it is actually good. For instance my cousin is 63 years old and buys more new albums from new artists than I do! Most of the music I listen to is from the 70’s and 80’s.

  3. How do you square this theory with the fact that many young people today also shun today’s music and prefer the music listened to by their parents or grandparents?

  4. I’m 62 and hate music older than 20 years ago. Nit sure where this idea came from. Who can listen to the same thing forever?

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