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Science Says: Why You Can’t Get That Song Out of Your Head

The Chainsmokers just don’t stop. After a big 2016, which saw them elevate to the upper echelons of EDM and pop music, duo Alex Pall and Drew Taggart have hit the ground running to start the new year. From landing a residency at a Vegas Nightclub, to announcing their debut studio album (and accompanying World Tour), the freshly-minted Grammy winners are taking their game to another level. After sending us to Paris to kick off 2017, the boys released ANOTHER catchy song last week, joining forces with Coldplay to create what’s already becoming the next big mainstream hit. What exactly makes a song catchy though?

For that answer, we turn to science! According to a study at Penn State University, it all starts with an itch. Keith Duffy, a musician and Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Penn State, says MRI scans from previous studies show that a catchy song makes the auditory part of the brain ‘itch’. The only way for the brain to scratch that itch? Listening to the song.

In an experiment conducted at Penn State, test subjects were played snippets of popular songs that had bits removed from the audio. Participants were able to fill in the missing pieces by “hearing” the removed parts in their heads. This was especially true with songs that had lyrics and/or evoked strong visual memories.

Familiarity is one of the biggest factors when it comes to catchiness. If a song is unfamiliar, the likely hood of it connecting with a listener is low. You’re more apt to liking a song that is part of a genre you enjoy listening to.

Another factor? Repetition. Paul Barsom, a Professor of Music Composition at Penn State, tells us the following:

“If you have a hook in the song, and if that hook is repeated often, that could do it. You might only remember five seconds of the song- but sometimes that’s enough. You could hear a song 25 times a day. If it has a short refrain that everyone can remember, it will stick, even if it’s terrible.”

The size and shape of your brain, simple, memorable lyrics and song recognition are also contributing factors, according to science. So next time you get a song stuck in your head, just think of your brain scratching its’ itch!

What song is currently stuck in your head? Drop a comment below!

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