Hooked – Can’t get that song out of your head? Here’s how you find out why!

The hills are alive with citizen science. More musical projects for your ears and brain.

This morning, I woke up after a good night’s rest, ready to take on the world. I was still lying in bed, thinking about how great it would be if I could just lace up and go out for a run. I imagined myself getting ready like Rocky Balboa in his now famous training montage (never mind that I’m closer to Kung Fu Panda than Rocky in the physical fitness department). After a few moments, I realized I was humming the tune to ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Before I knew it I had the tune stuck in my head and couldn’t get it out all day long. What is it about this song that’s so ‘sticky’ I wondered and so when I got back home, I listened to the full song a few times. And then it hit me. It was the guitar riff at the beginning that had me hooked.

#Hooked - Citizen science and catchy tunes
#Hooked – Citizen science to understand what makes music memorable

If you hear that song right now, you’ll see that the riff and the chorus (“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…”) are the parts that have a penchant for getting stuck in your head. Not surprisingly, that’s what you’d call the song’s hook. And it isin’t just me trying to find out where the hook is. Singers and songwriters are always looking for that perfect hook that creates the next chart topping hit. And scientists like Dr. Henkjan Honing and Dr. John Ashley Burgoyne at the University of Amsterdam are looking deeper, trying to decipher how our brains process these catchy tunes (the science of musical cognition). When Dr. Erinma Ochu, an expert in citizen science engagement at the University of Manchester got to know about this research, she did what she does best. She made a citizen science project out of it.

And so #Hooked was born. Launched in October this year at the Manchester Science Festival, the project was a big hit. It kicked off by asking about 700 people what they thought was the catchiest tune and analyzed the results. Now the project moves on to the next phase where anybody in the world can participate in this exciting experiment. To take it to the masses, the #Hooked team has created a game that can be played online. The game is set to launch in early 2014 and as the team explains on their webpage,

 “We’ve designed a name-that-tune type game where people need to first recognise a tune then identify the hook in that song. By comparing the results from lots and lots of people who play the game, we will be able to look at the musical elements of the hooks to see what common factors, if any, create the most noticeable part of the tune.”

If you’re asking yourself why you should participate, apart from being a whole lot of fun playing this on the ride home from school or work, the project could end up adding significantly to brain research. By analyzing the results of this experiment, scientists hope to understand how your grey cells respond to colorful tunes. That knowledge in turn can be applied to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, whose memories are failing. Ready to jump on this groove train? Sign up to receive alerts about the project and know when the game is released (we’ll be sure to update it here as well!).

And oh, the tune voted the catchiest at the Manchester Science Festival? Fittingly, it was ‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue.

Arvind Sureh is a graduate student in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. For his thesis, he has been studying the molecular mechanisms behind uterine contraction during pregnancy. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. www.suresharvind.com

Categories: Citizen Science

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About the Author

Arvind Suresh

Arvind Suresh

Arvind Suresh is science communicator and a former laboratory biologist, he has a Master’s degree in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science. Connect with him on Twitter @suresh_arvind.