Are Our Brains Wired to Predict Pop Hits?

Have you ever listened to a new song by an unknown artist and thought to yourself, "This could totally be a huge hit on the radio one day"? You’re not alone! According to a new study conducted by the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University, teen brain activity just might be able to predict the success of pop songs. Pretty nifty, right?

In the experiment, researchers chose 120 songs to listen to by relatively unknown musicians for a subject group of 27 teens. While they listened, their brain activity was monitored through a process called "functional magnetic resolution imaging" (fMRI), and once the songs ended, the teens were asked to rate how much they liked each one on a scale of 1-5.

The study was initially testing how peer pressure affects teenagers’ opinions, but a researcher was hit with an epiphany three years later when he heard one of the songs in the study, One Republic’s catchy hit “Apologize,” on the radio. Putting two and two together, he then realized that the teens in the study—who had listened to songs before they had mainstream radio—might have accurately predicted a hit song. By further analyzing the data, he found that a “sweet spot” in the brain could predict around a third of songs that sell over 20,000 units.

While there are certainly limitations to the study, it’s definitely a unique concept to think that we could predict the next songs that top the charts! Hey, I liked The Script’s “Breakeven” way before it hit the radio—music mogul Clive Davis, will you hire me to listen to your demo tapes? :)