The Reminiscence Bump…our musical link to the past

By Leigh Morrow

When I hear those unmistakable first instrumental guitar chords in opening G, played by Keith Richards to “Start Me Up” or “Jumping Jack Flash ” by the Rolling Stones, I’m instantly transported to the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s mother’s Impala convertible. It was a very pretty shade of baby blue, and we would put the top down and drive around on summer nights with our sunglasses still on, money from our jobs fuelling the gas tank and the cigarettes, and the Rolling Stones filling our ears and hearts. Music is like that. The songs of our teens follow us all the years of our life. The memories so laser sharp, that just the melody explodes us with emotion associated with that time of our lives. Musical memories are almost indelibly printed on our brains.

But why?

Music shapes our life script, and during our 2nd and 3rd decades, when scientists have determined our script is beginning to affirm who we, the notes and songs of this time continue their importance in our minds, long after the bands have folded and the musicians have died or hung up their instruments.

This phenomenon is named “the reminiscence bump”, a memory of something that remains luminous, years after its imprint. The more salient that memory was to forming your self-image, the brighter it grew in your memory. Since the majority of our self-concepts are created in our late teens and 20’s, the music of that time also stays in memoriam. However music isn’t the only thing that gets gathered in these reminiscence bumps of our brain. New findings indicate any experiences that supported who we were becoming—events that helped us define the answer to “Who am I” such as “I am trustworthy” or “I am an artist” or “I am outspoken”—are components of the identity-based reservoir of their bump.

Whatever touches us as young adults when we are becoming who we are to become, touches us so completely that we are forever attached to this past. So when we reach our 40’s and our generation is now creating “the culture”, we tend to see a replay of what double decades earlier fed our souls and hearts.

Hollywood movies, fashion and books all have a 20 year cycle – those indelibly etched memories of those convertible rides at dusk we now write about as modern authors, produce for the big screen and model on fashion catwalks.

If this is true, then this truly sheds new insight into our midlife and how we should be embracing this time of our lives. Instead of harkening back to the glory years of old as something we long the recreate, we should be cognitive that those days have in fact been with us all along. They are as fresh and poignant as the days we created them, and now, no more distant than they were the day after that summer ended, our freedom ride was sold, and my girlfriend and I kissed goodbye to attend different universities, miles apart.

The music and the memories never die, but follow us like comfortable friends, all the days of our lives. In fact, as much as we try, it’s those early adult memories that will be our favorites, and while of course we add to the repertoire with new life script events like weddings and graduations, births and deaths, we have this core, at the center of our reminiscence bump, of our most self-forming memories, the ones that resonates with something as solitary as a single chord of music.

Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be viewed and rented at

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