The Reminiscence Bump: Who's Your Favorite Footballer?

Memory is a funny thing, as evidenced by a new experiment  from Steve M. J. Janssen, David C. Rubin and Martin A. Conway.  The BPS Research Digest blog summarizes:

Six hundred and nineteen people (aged 16 to 80) took part in the study online, conducted in Dutch and hosted on the website of the University of Amsterdam. Participants were presented with the names of 190 all-time leading football players and asked to name their judgment of the five best players of all time. They could either select from the list or choose their own.

The researchers calculated the mid-career point of the 172 players named by the participants and compared this against the participants’ age at that time. Participants overwhelming tended to name players whose career mid-point coincided with participants’ teens and early twenties. The modal age (i.e. the most common) of the participants at their chosen players’ mid-career was 17 years.

The findings provide further evidence of a “reminiscence bump” — a term psychologists use to describe peoples’ tendency to refer back to their youth when asked about memorable events or favorite music, books or films. “Several theories have been put forward to explain the reminiscence bump, including that our memories are more efficient in our teens and twenties,” explains the BPS Digest. “Others think it’s because more novel things happen to us at that time of life, such as our first kiss or first job, causing them to get lodged in memory.”


The definitive James Bond is the one who starred in the first Bond film you saw.


Does the study account for those of us who couldn't name a footballer if our lives depended on it?

I've noted a similar effect in popular culture, in the claim that you can tell a person's age by the kind of music they listen to. Unfortunately, that pegs me at upwards of 300.


Pele! And... ah... Who was the girl who took her shirt off? Brandi Chastain.
I'm tapped.

I listen to music from before I was born, but it's only a decade or two.

Marc Brodeur

I wonder how this would play in the US for baseball, where many people consider ballers from the 'golden era' the best ever.


Even leaving aside baseball nostalgia, part of the problem with "best" is how you define it -- Sports evolve. Does best imply vs their peers, or how they'd to in today's game? It's a problem with all 3 big American sports... No way anybody can approach, say, Cy Young's win count. It's simply impossible to accrue 750 complete games since closers became the norm. American Football players of the 60's were about the size of today's punters. Rule changes have made the passing game much easier too. Wilt may have revolutionized post play in basketball, but nowadays, everybody has caught up. Plus everybody shoots better, no more 45 rebounds-a-game stuff.


Could it be that we simply have more time to pay attention to things like names of ballplayers in our teens and twenties before life's responsibilities start crowding out much of the fun stuff?


It wouldn't be impossible to find survey and find out. How many names of championship teams of people's youth do they remember versus teams in sports the same person follows now?

I can name more players of current teams I follow than the non-superstar team players of my youth. I'd venture to guess the same is true of most casual fans.

Rex McClure

Yesterday NPR reported on the age that the brain matures, suggesting that prior to the late-teens/early twenties the brain is immature (the context was the age of adult criminal liability). Once the brain matures, it is capable of making rational decisions. Putting these studies together, it seems that the brain matures and the cement hardens at the golden age of 21.

And giving the headline a quick read, I offered up my fav "footballer"--Walter Payton. Given his career and my age, it is a perfect fit with the theory.

Malcolm Johnson

I agree in principle. My favourite footballer was Stanley Matthews whose career was almost at an end when I was in my teeens. Is nostalgia still what it used to be?