RESEARCH into the choices of castaways on the enduringly popular radio show, Desert Island Discs, has found that the music we listen to between the ages of 10 and 30 defines us for the rest of our lives.

We already know music evokes powerful memories?

Indeed, but the latest research serves to cement the notion that the song choices of our early years continues to define us as we age, so even if we feel our musical tastes have enhanced or altered over time, the music of our youth was formative and still influences us today.

What was the study looking at?

Published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, the study by the University of Westminster and City University of London analysed the music choices of 80 ‘castaways’ on BBC Radio 4’s long-running Desert Island Discs; 40 men and 40 women.


Famous guests - ranging from Grace Kelly and Kylie Minogue, to Sir Paul McCartney and Daniel Radcliffe - have, through the years, chosen eight tracks to take with them to a desert island. The radio show, which first aired in 1942, remains one of the most listened to programmes and sits in the top spot in the podcast download charts.

So what did the researchers find?

Half of all musical choices were shown to have been most important to the castaways between the ages of 10 and 19 or between 20 and 29 years and the most popular reasons for their relevance “were general memories of a person, general memories of a specific period of time (eg early teens), specific memories relating to self and identity, or because they evoked an emotional response”.


Of many examples, Bruce Springsteen’s castaway choice of The Beatles’ I Want To Hold Your Hand is one. He said: “This was another song that just changed the course of my life…And it was really the song that inspired me to play rock and roll music, to get into a small band and to start doing some small gigs around town. But it was just a life changing piece of music.”

The study concludes?

“Music may be a defining feature” of the self-defining period in our lives where we are finding who we are, “providing material that becomes intrinsically connected to the developing self”. It adds that the strength of this association may in part be due to the role of music in “regulating emotions” during adolescence, with songs continuing to “provide cues” back to “memories that when reflected upon or recounted, aim to define who we are”.

So if you were into Elvis as a teen and he is still the King for you?

Catherine Loveday, neuropsychologist at the University of Westminster, who led the study, said: “Guests frequently chose songs because they were related to important memories that occurred during teenage years…Music from this time has particular meaning, primarily because it relates to memories from this very important developmental period of our life.”