An Emory University study suggests that the brain activity of teens, recorded while they are listening to new songs, may help predict the popularity of the songs.
"We have scientifically demonstrated that you can, to some extent, use neuroimaging in a group of people to predict cultural popularity," says Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist and director of Emory's Center for Neuropolicy.
The Journal of Consumer Psychology is publishing the results of the study, conducted by Berns and Sara Moore, an economics research specialist in his lab.
In 2006, Berns' lab selected 120 songs from MySpace pages, all of them by relatively unknown musicians without recording contracts. Twenty-seven research subjects, aged 12 to 17, listened to the songs while their neural reactions were recorded through functional magnetic resolution imaging (fMRI). The subjects were also asked to rate each song on a scale of one to five.
The data was originally collected to study how peer pressure affects teenagers' opinions. The experiment used relatively unknown songs to try to ensure that the teens were hearing them for the first time.
Three years later, while watching "American Idol" with his two young daughters, Berns realized that one of those obscure songs had become a hit, when contestant Kris Allen started singing "Apologize" by One Republic.
"I said, 'Hey, we used that song in our study,'" Berns recalls. "It occurred to me that we had this unique data set of the brain responses of kids who listened to songs before they got popular. I started to wonder if we could have predicted that hit."
A comparative analysis revealed that the neural data had a statistically significant prediction rate for the popularity of the songs, as measured by their sales figures from 2007 to 2010.
"It's not quite a hit predictor," Berns cautions, "but we did find a significant correlation between the brain responses in this group
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