Do you ever listen to the same song over and over again without getting bored? If not, you've probably had a builder with a penchant for Ed Sheeran or a flatmate with an annoying Foo Fighters habit. It's extremely common – and easy – to listen to the same song on loop. But it's rare to stop and think why you're doing it.
Researchers from the University of Michigan quizzed 204 men and women, in their 30s or younger, about the tunes they were “listening to most often these days”, their connection to the song, what aspects of the song had them hooked and how the music made them feel, reported BPS Research Digest.
Participants cited a wide range of songs as their favourites within a wide range of genres: mostly pop and rock, but also rap, country, jazz and reggae. Nearly two thirds (60%) claimed to enjoy re-listening to their chosen song almost immediately, with some even claiming to listen three or four times in a row.
When it came to the psychological stuff – the feelings their songs evoked – the music tended to fall in one of three categories. More than two thirds of the songs had a happy, energetic vibe (making listeners feel “Pumped up! Excited! Ready to dance, sing, and love!”); others were calm and relaxed (with participants saying "It makes me feel at ease, calm, and helps me to put things into perspective”); and the remainder were bittersweet (“It makes me feel sad. But not the bad kind of sad, and I like singing with it”).
The most interesting finding to emerge? The bittersweet songs were the most listened to – with an average of 790 listens, compared to 515 for calm songs and 175 for happy songs. Bittersweet melodies were also the most likely to evoke the deepest connections and to enable listeners to build a “mental model” of the song, namely, the listeners were more likely to be able to replay the song in their head.
Based on personal experience, this sounds about right. Play me Rihanna and Drake's "Whats My Name?" and I can virtually taste the apple VK and feel the sticky nightclub floors that were a key feature of my first term of university. Now, when I feel low I often listen to the song on a loop to remind me of those simpler, teenage times. Bittersweet indeed.
Music, with all its attached emotions and memories, helps us to relive moments in our lives that we don't want to forget, and our most-played lists can provide a fascinating insight into our own psychologies. Why not scour through your own Spotify or iTunes in the name of self knowledge?
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