Audio-Psychology: Why We Listen to Songs on Repeat

One of my favorite Sci-Fi books from my teen years was Alfred Bester’s 1953 novel, The Demolished Man. (It was the first Hugo Award winner). In Bester’s vision of the Future, telepathy is common, and the main character uses earworms — Pop tunes specifically developed to be an addictive, catchy, irritating nuisance to block out other telepaths from reading his mind.

I thought of that book as I read this article from Music.Mic:

Why, when there are hundreds of thousands of songs released each year, do we choose to listen to the same ones over and over? The reason may be rooted in science.

“Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next,” professor Elizabeth Margulis, author of the recent On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, noted in an interview with Mic. “A sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. In descriptions of their most intense experiences of music, people often talk about a sense that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.”

You play songs on repeat, then, because it feels as if you’re singing it. It’s that sense of anticipation that happens in the listener, what Margulis calls “virtual participation.” It’s a similar participation to something that follows a narrative structure, like reading a book or watching a movie over again. It’s similar to as if you were creating the music with your mind — as if it were a part of you.
The Science Behind Why We Listen to Our Favorite Songs on Repeat

The science of earworms has been perfected, so the industry can build pop songs that get stuck in your head. Check out the current top of the charts, “All About That Bass”


Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass


The Science Behind Why We Listen to Our Favorite Songs on RepeatMusic.Mic

See also:
On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind December 9, 2013 by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis

Get that tune out of your head – scientists find how to get rid of earworms (The Telegraph)

Earworms: Why catchy tunes get trapped in our heads (BBC)

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