The Psychology Of Taste – Evolving Passions

We have all been there. A listen back to some of the music we used to obsess over when we were young can result in a confusion that verges on regret. This is matched by the sense of disapproval the majority of parents feel towards their children’s choice in music. It is a natural phenomenon, but one that, until recently, has not been properly explored.

Now, however, a study by the University of Cambridge has proved that our music tastes do indeed shift as we pass through different phases of life. This is largely said to be catalysed by a shift in psychological and social needs. Further on from this, the research suggests that music is used as a platform of identity exploration, assisting individuals and groups with emotional and intellectual growth.

Studying Musical Tastes

The research by the University of Cambridge has taken more than ten years to conduct and involved a quarter of a million individuals. In order to understand the benefits afforded by different types of music, five broad categories were developed – mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, contemporary. By using these defined groupings, the researchers were able to track the evolution of our musical tastes through our lives.

Unsurprisingly, the research revealed that the first major period of musical discovery and relevance occurs during adolescence. This period is characterised by the ‘intense’ music group. This encompasses a wide range of musical genres – Hip Hop, Metal, Punk etc – and is associated with the necessity during adolescence of grasping onto something that is uniquely ours. This music often involves loud and distorted sounds, which represents this instant need for rebellion to enrich our understanding of self.

The next stage is also contemporary, but shifts away from ‘intense’ sounds to more ‘mellow’ offerings. This represents a shift from the intense journey of trying to find one’s self to a period of longing for love and acceptance. The first ‘intense’ phase is very individualistic and about understanding yourself, whereas this second phase seems more about gaining acceptance from others.

When you move on from this period of seeking acceptance, the final transition identified in the study is towards sophisticated, unpretentious and contemporary music. The reason behind this final shift is largely put down to life situation, social status and perceived intellect. The benefits we seek to gain from music change and become more about coping with stressful life changes and hectic schedules than identity or acceptance.

It is Not Only Music

Of course, this behavioural change is not only connected to our musical tastes, but also the food we eat, the films we watch and the holidays we choose to go on. It is all a matter of a shift in what we hope to gain from such experiences.

When it comes to food, for example, babies are born with a natural preference for sweet things and an aversion to anything bitter. This tends to stick with us during our teens, but then we get to a conscious level of taste where we are also considering the effect that such food has on our health. Similarly to music, this is a shift from instant gratification to long term benefit. Although we may still crave the instant hit, we know better – our perception has changed.

Fashion too. Again, it proceeds through a similar psychological filter – from discovery to acceptance to coping. More specifically to fashion, this means – experimentation, trends and comfort. Looking back on our earlier years, many of us would be shocked by the level of importance we placed on fashion and having the latest trend. Although, some still take a huge interest in what they wear until the grave, it is much more commonly influenced by comfort and an understanding of what fits our bodies well.

Learning to Like Something

It is common for people to use the phrase ‘learn to like’ or ‘get use to’. On a slightly separate note, there is also the presence of what people call an ‘acquired taste’ – something that becomes liked over time. This is a complex component of the psychology of taste, as it suggests that it sits somewhere between our conscious and subconscious minds.

Indeed, in reference to food, this could be related to health. Initially, for example, it can be a strain trying to get children to eat their greens. As we grow older, and not only learn the importance, but feel the impact of such foods, however, we learn to like them. In music too. We could perhaps still enjoy a piece of music today because of the memory it brings. Perhaps consciously it jars with what we believe to be pleasant on the ears, but subconsciously we feel a connection.

You could even relate this ‘acquired taste’ theory to alcohol. When young boys and girls first sample beer, for example, they often subconsciously enjoy it because it is part of growing up – despite perhaps not particularly enjoying the taste. As adults, beer tends to represent relaxation and thus the taste improves. Often taste is related to the societal settings in which we experience it.

It’s Not Always This Way

It’s true. Sometimes people never grow out of old eating habits, whilst others enjoy the same music all their life. This is the anomaly of psychology; what is true for one person doesn’t necessarily have to be true for another. Usually if, for example, someone is deeply embedded within a musical genre – rap, metal, punk etc – it has often transcended taste and moved onto being about lifestyle.

In addition to this, bad eating habits can often be due to something more deeply psychological. It is not unheard of for an individual to be extremely picky over food – even to the extent of eating only one or two things. This can be due to more complex psychology and often these people require professional support in order to shift towards a more positive and healthy situation.

Luckily today, such psychological problems are respected by both professionals and the general public. This means that there is an abundance of affordable psychological services  available, should you feel that there is something deeper impacting you and your tastes. Remember, we are all unique, but at the end of the day, what is most important is that we are healthy.

Dr Marcus Jones has for a long time had issues with his eating habits. Due to a bad experience when he was younger, he was completely repulsed by any food that didn’t give him instant gratification. This made it impossible to eat a healthy and balanced diet. After becoming sick – both physically and psychologically – as a result of this, he decided to seek help from Expert Psychological Services – BPS and NCPIP certified – and seek support for his condition.

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