Why do some songs become earworms?

6 Feb

Earworms are those annoying songs that can’t get out of your head. A more technical name for this phenomenon is Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).

A recent paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts investigates the common melodic features of earworms:

The results of the present work indicate that features of a song’s
melodic structure, as well as measures of its popularity and recency,
can be useful in predicting whether a song becomes INMI.
These findings contribute to the growing literature on the INMI
experience and serve to increase our general understanding of why
certain songs are spontaneously recalled in the mind over others.

In sum, tunes that become INMI tend to be faster in tempo than
non-INMI tunes. If the melodic contour shape of a melody is
highly congruent with established norms, then it is more likely for
the tune to become INMI. If the melodic contour does not conform
with norms, then it should have a highly unusual pattern of contour
rises and falls to become an INMI tune.

The paper includes this helpful list of the most common earworms:

(1) “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga

(2) “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue

(3) “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey

(4) “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye

(5) “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon

(6) “California Gurls,” Katy Perry

(7) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen

(8) “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga

(9) “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

“The Amazing Spider Brain”

3 Feb

Another interesting story about invertebrate brains, in this case the spider:

“Spiders are very smart, that’s why we’re studying them,” says Ronald Hoy, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. “They use visual cues to steer by, and the kind of mazes that they can solve is considered to be pretty impressive for an invertebrate.”

Does language affect public policy?

1 Feb

I loved the movie Arrival. I particularly liked all the geeky references to topics like the Fibonacci series and Sanskrit etymology. It would not give anything away to say that the plot turns on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which asserts that your native language shapes your cognition in important ways. This is highly controversial view, and my sense, from talking to linguists, is that most of them reject strong versions of hypothesis.

However, there is some evidence for weaker versions of the hypothesis. Which brings me to this recent paper in The American Journal of Political Science title: “Language Shapes People’s Time Perspective and Support for Future-Oriented Policies.” Here is the abstract:

“Can the way we speak affect the way we perceive time and think about politics? Languages vary by how much they require speakers to grammatically encode temporal differences. Futureless tongues (e.g., Estonian) do not oblige speakers to distinguish between the present and future tense, whereas futured tongues do (e.g., Russian). By grammatically conflating “today” and “tomorrow,” we hypothesize that speakers of futureless tongues will view the future as temporally closer to the present, causing them to discount the future less and support future-oriented policies more. Using an original survey experiment that randomly assigned the interview language to Estonian/Russian bilinguals, we find support for this proposition and document the absence of this language effect when a policy has no obvious time referent. We then replicate and extend our principal result through a cross-national analysis of survey data. Our results imply that language may have significant consequences for mass opinion.”

(Hat tip to Boing-Boing)

Rasta Dogs?

30 Jan

This story has received a lot of attention on the internet.

In a study conducted with the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, researchers at the University of Glasgow played six-hour Spotify playlists from five genres of music to shelter dogs. On one day, the dogs heard classical; on others they grooved to soft rock, reggae, pop and Motown. The researchers recorded the dogs’ heart rate variability, their cortisol levels and behaviors like barking and lying down — all measures of stress levels — as they listened to the tunes, as well as on days when no music was played.

I thought you might be interested in the article abstract:

Classical music has been shown to reduce stress in kennelled dogs; however, rapid habituation of dogs to this form of auditory enrichment has also been demonstrated. The current study investigated the physiological and behavioural response of kennelled dogs (n = 38) to medium-term (5 days) auditory enrichment with five different genres of music including Soft Rock, Motown, Pop, Reggae and Classical, to determine whether increasing the variety of auditory stimulation reduces the level of habituation to auditory enrichment. Dogs were found to spend significantly more time lying and significantly less time standing when music was played, regardless of genre. There was no observable effect of music on barking, however, dogs were significantly (z = 2.2, P < 0.05) more likely to bark following cessation of auditory enrichment. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) was significantly higher, indicative of decreased stress, when dogs were played Soft Rock and Reggae, with a lesser effect observed when Motown, Pop and Classical genres were played. Relative to the silent period prior to auditory enrichment, urinary cortisol:creatanine (UCCR) values were significantly higher during Soft Rock (t = 2.781, P < 0.01) and the second silent control period following auditory enrichment (t = 2.46, P < 0.05). Despite the mixed response to different genres, the physiological and behavioural changes observed remained constant over the 5d of enrichment suggesting that the effect of habituation may be reduced by increasing the variety of auditory enrichment provided.

I would be very interested in knowing the magnitude of the effect for different types of music (t scores and p values do not tell us the effect size, something could be statistically significant, but of such a small magnitude to have no practical importance). Unfortunately, I am not able to access the article itself.

A CAT scan of a bee brain

27 Jan


A bee brain is tiny, yet it has amazing computational power.

Using a technique called  micro-computed tomography, a group of researches have produced CAT scan images of the brain of a bumble bee. You can see them here.

Why is this important? The authors explain:

Despite their comparatively small size, insect brains are capable of rapidly detecting and responding to a plethora of diverse stimuli in a wide range of sensory modalities, facilitating their global ecological success and establishing them as an essential model system for cognitive biology and neuroscience. Although insect brains are smaller and simpler than their vertebrate counterparts, there is increasing evidence that insect cognitive performance can be impressive. For instance, foraging insects must learn and memorise navigation routes in complex landscapes requiring the ability to detect, distinguish and integrate a multitude of chemical, visual, landmark and celestial cues. Therefore, knowledge of insect brain structure allows us to understand how comparatively small (and simple) brains can generate complex patterns of behaviour and act as a gateway to understanding more complex brains and their evolutionary development. Indeed, variation in the volume of brain regions (examined using histological techniques) has been reported to be linked to differences in innate responses to stimuli, age/experience related behavioural transitions behavioural syndromes and rates of learning and performance in cognitive tasks. Yet, there remains much to discover about how insect brain structure relates to individual behaviour. Closing such a fundamental knowledge gap requires the development of new imaging protocols and the application of novel strategies to measure, record and robustly quantify aspects of brain morphology across multiple individuals.


Restoring closed tabs in Google Chrome

25 Jan

Maybe you knew about this already, but I just found out. As someone who has many tabs open simultaneously, I sometimes close an important one accidentally. But that is no longer a problem:

To reopen the most recently closed tab in Chrome, right-click on the tab bar and select “Reopen closed tab” from the popup menu. You can also press Ctrl+Shift+T on your keyboard to reopen the last closed tab.

Bizarre advice on web site affiliated with education secretary nominee

23 Jan

It was brought to my attention that education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos is an investor in a company that promises “brain enhancement. ” While visiting the site I found this amazing claim:

The cavemen had it right all along! Because bone broth is full of collagen (and 30% of our bodies’ protein consists of this), it acts as a “gut healer.” According to research by clinical nutritionist Dr. Josh Axe, gut health and brain health are highly connected to each other. And, gut-healing is said to help lower anxiety and other mood-related disorders.

I am almost speechless. Where to begin? I guess we could start by asking who the heck is Josh Axe? He is

a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine.

I have no special prejudice against chiropractors, but the DeVos affiliated website claims that he has conducted research. If he has, why aren’t links provided?

It is true that there is collagen in the brain, but it doesn’t follow from that that consuming collagen helps brain performance. Moreover there is evidence that bone broth may have high levels of the neurotoxin lead.

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