Thursday, November 20, 2014

Science Identifies The Catchiest Songs Ever – Did Your Favorite Make The List?

Humans have a deeply rooted love for music and rhythm. For reasons we’ve yet to fully understand, certain types of music bring out the warrior inside of us while other types of music are incredibly soothing. Some songs move us to tears, yet others make us angry. And humans are not alone their capacity to respond to music. There is something about these unnaturally occurring sound patterns that speaks (sings?) to all species capable of sensing the reverberations.

Music can hold great power over us. Songs can change moods, spark memories, or inspire greatness. Some of you may have seen the video of Henry, an unresponsive gentleman in a nursing home, spring back to life after hearing his favorite music. Watch this remarkable episode below as neurologist Oliver Sacks explains the phenomenon.

We are also attuned to how divergent musical tastes can be! Teens rarely like the music that their parents listen to and vice versa. David Hasselhoff has an inexplicable legion of devoted fans in Germany. Michael Bolton somehow scored multiple hits despite piercing millions of eardrums. Some only listen to country, rap, rock, or classical, yet some people have promiscuous ears that love it all. And, let’s admit it, jazz is only fun for the musicians playing it.

Germans love the music of David Hasselhof so much that they've placed an eerily realistic wax statue of The Hoff by the Brandenburg Gate.
John Mellencamp once declared that the world is “polluted” with songs. With an estimated 2-5 billion songs having been written throughout human history, it is pretty remarkable for one to gain widespread popularity. The songs that manage to stand out from the crowd are typically called “earworms” because they are so catchy that you can’t shake them out of your head no matter how hard you try. Some of these tunes dig their talons so deeply into your subconscious that it can be agonizing; for example, here’s a list of infectious songs that were actually used to torture people.

Recently, Dr. John Ashley Burgoyne, who calls himself a computational musicologist, used an online game called “Hooked on Music” as a tool to identify some of the catchiest songs humans have ever concocted. Want to know what they are?

Coming in at number 5 is the ABBA hit, “SOS”:

The fourth catchiest song is “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga:

“Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, the theme from Rocky III, punches in at #3:

One-hit wonder Lou Bega swings in at #2 with “Mambo No.5”:

And the catchiest song ever…(fake electronic drumroll)…“Wannabe” by the Spice Girls:

It should be noted that Burgoyne’s research relied on an internet game to generate the list of catchy songs, so there is inherent bias among the participants. Other research that employed a different algorithm (or should that be “algorhythm”?) have, perhaps thankfully, revealed different results.

All the fun aside, there is a serious element to researching why catchy songs are so easily remembered. The scientists involved with these types of studies hope that their work will reveal news insights into learning and memory, which could potentially be useful in treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Contributed by:  Bill Sullivan
Snowdon CT, & Teie D (2010). Affective responses in tamarins elicited by species-specific music. Biology letters, 6 (1), 30-2 PMID: 19726444

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