7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Listening To Music

animal-cruelty-cat-cute-ipod-music-Favim.com-1190481. You might be more likely to keep mishearing a lyric if you find the incorrect version amusing.

study published in PLOS One last year argued that the wittier you find your misheard version, the more likely you are to keep hearing it.

(Oh, but in “Blank Space” Taylor Swift definitely does sing “Starbucks lovers”, I’m sorry you are all just wrong.)

2. We mishear lyrics because of the powerful role expectations play in our hearing.

In the 1950s, a Harper’s magazine writer coined the term “Mondegreens” for misheard lyrics, in reference to a Scottish folk song in which she heard the words “Lady Mondegreen” instead of “laid him on the green”.

This happens because the meaning we create from songs doesn’t come entirely from what we hear.

“There’s a piece of what we understand that comes from the sound that comes in our ear,” Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, told PRI last November, but “there’s a piece of what we understand that comes from the expectations in our brain”.

3. Songs that get stuck in your head are called “earworms”.

Victoria Williamson. researcher at the University of Sheffield, has researched why a certain song gets stuck in your head. Earworms can have several triggers, she explained to the BBC in 2012.

Some are obvious: having heard the song recently and repeatedly can contribute. But so can seeing a single word that reminds you of that song (for example, Williamson says walking into a shoe shop called Faith led to George Michael’s song of the same name being stuck in her head all afternoon).

Even stress can trigger an earworm. One participant in an online survey Williamson organised got a song stuck in her head during a big exam when she was 16 – then at every stressful life event since then it reappeared, even years later.

4. The best way to get rid of an earworm might be to get a different song stuck in there.

Trying to specifically not think about a particular thing is very hard, and tends to make you think more about it that you would have otherwise. So just thinking your way out of an earworm is not going to work.

Here’s some information that might help, though: Recent thoughts are likely to come back if you aren’t actually finished with the thought, according to a paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology. This fits with a different study published in PLOS One, in which some people report that playing your earworm all the way through, either in real life or in your head, can get rid of it.

If that doesn’t work, one way to game the system is to listen to specific music you don’t mind having stuck in your head. Then at least you can choose your earworm.


5. The “mere exposure effect” makes us like certain music just because we hear it a lot.

The "mere exposure effect" makes us like certain music just because we hear it a lot.

Alice Mongkongllite / BuzzFeed

But, crucially, there’s a point at which it then really really starts to grate – and you get an inverted-U graph like the one above.

In an essay at Aeon, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, director of the music cognition lab at the University of Arkansas, explains why repetition makes us like music: “People seem to misattribute their increased perceptual fluency – their improved ability to process the triangle or the picture or the melody – not to the prior experience, but to some quality of the object itself.”

Basically, hearing a song you’ve heard before makes you feel clever, because your brain has already figured it out.

6. Album sales in a particular genre of music go up as the music gets simpler.

“This can be interpreted as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation once commercial or mainstream success sets in,” say authors of the study that was published in PLOS One.

7. People get chills listening to all different sorts of music.

Ever got goosebumps when listening to your favourite music? It turns out that it’s not the type of music that dictates whether you’ll get chills, but how much you’re into it.

paper published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science found that musical preference didn’t make a difference when trying to predict whether someone is likely to get chills when listening to music.

In fact the study, which involved 196 mostly young adults from the University of North Carolina, found that “openness to experience” was the biggest predictor of who would get chills when listening to music. Openness to experience is a factor that predicts how much someone is into music, explains Williamson in a blog post about the paper. Essentially, this means that if you’re really into your music, whatever that music is, you’re likely to get the occasional shiver down your spine.

More can be found on Buzzfeed here.

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