Here’s the evolutionary reason why you always prefer listening to some songs on repeat.

We guess you’re a music lover, obviously. And probably have your favorite songs and artiste you often listen to. That awe inspiring moment when you just can’t stop listening to that new single that just made it’s way to the Billboard. We’ve all been there. But what makes you want to repeat a song over and over again while you have the entire Billboard 100? According to research, there might be an evolutionary reason.

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One, Two, Three, Play It Up

Remember the first time you heard Ciara’s “Level Up?” You didn’t really notice it. Then the song made an undercover Billboard debut, playing on every radio you tune in to, on every television commercial, and soon became an Instagram jingle. Before you realize, you were bobbing your head to it. Soon enough, you sought out to play it, adding it to your favorites on iTunes, playing it over and over again. Years later, you still can’t get enough of that Ciara fineness. But what has evolution got to do with this? Short answer: everything!

The evolutionary epic seems to favor traits of an organism that helps them adapt and survive enough to raise offspring, and pass on their traits to ensure the survival of their species. And the best way our ancestors learned to survive was by trusting what they already knew and distrusting what they knew not. If you experienced something once and it didn’t kill you, chances are it won’t kill you the next time.

Maybe this is what led evolutionary psychologists to hypothesize the “Mere Exposure Effect.” It basically states that (and you guessed it) you like things the more you’re being exposed to them. If you’ve ever had the same meal for dinner five times in a row then you know that’s way different when it comes to your choice of music. This is because your brain processes music a lot more like it processes language. In other words, as if its information.


Whence Cometh Music?

As Bruce Richman explains in his book The Origins of Music, birds, wolves, whales, and other animals mimic each other’s calls to signal that they’re part of the group — we were likely no different. Within our evolutionary history, our ability to make noises suddenly evolved into languages and music. If your brain considers music to be more special than whatever your often hear, why is it that some songs let you hit the repeat button often than others? Short answer: it’s information.

The songs you listen to over and over again has a certain level of complexity. For instance, the decade-long popularity of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” had a variety of so many different melodies and vocals that you could listen to it five times in a row and notice something different every time. And if you constantly keep on hearing something new each time, you’ll eventually keep on doing so.

(Fun Fact: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the perfect music piece for testing headphones and speakers, because of the range of it’s high and low pitches).

What if the opposite, too, is true? Could it be the case that listening to a particular song over and over again makes it boring? Well …, you know the answer. Your brain craves to learn new things, but it hates wasting time with stuff it already knows. The simpler the song, the boring it gets; the complex the song, the better the chance you’re going to play it on a loop.


That’s The Way You Make Me Feel

Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Obviously, complexity isn’t all it take — and “Level Up,” isn’t Beethoven, after all. Its all about how that song makes you feel. In a 2013 study by the University of Michigan, researchers found that songs that more than two-thirds of participants listened to on a loop, made them feel happy, energetic and so “pumped up” and “ready to dance.” Although the “bittersweet” songs (songs that evoke sadness), were also highly looped by most participants, yet those songs didn’t make it to the final list of their favorites.

This is the emotional connection that explains why some songs eventually get off the playlist, even after years of being listened to repeatedly. Of course, it all comes down to how you feel. If a song makes you feel good, you’ll want more of it, whether it’s a masterpiece or DIY mixtape by some starving artist. (No offense!)


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Apr 27, 2019.

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