Two Regions of the Brain Can Predict Hit Songs

Two Regions of the Brain Can Predict Hit Songs

Cerebral Activity Recognizes What Has “Staying Power”

Published June 11, 2011

First it was the music execs who were paid top dollar to “discover new talent.” Next, came the notorious “American Idol” judges. Today, it’s your turn. CNN reports that researchers at Emory University have determined that brain activity can recognize a hit and a flop.

Lead researcher Gregory Berns stumbled upon the phenomenon when looking at the effects of popular opinion on adolescent preferences. They used 120 songs by unsigned artists on MySpace that youth had probably never heard before. Twenty-seven people ranging in age form 12 to 17 listened to the songs. Most of the music did not sell well but did become widely popular.
Researchers compared brain responses through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain responses to each of the songs. There was a correlation between particular brain responses and songs that would go on to sell more than 20,000 units. About one-third of the songs that sold more than this drew strong activity from two brain regions associated with reward. Weak responses were even better at predicting flops; lower activity was associated with about 90 percent of songs selling less than 20,000 units.


Strong activity in two brain regions could predict hits about one-third of the time. Weak activity was even better at predicting non-hits. So it’s official. We all know a hit when we hear one.

(Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Written by Bryna Jean-Marie

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