Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On

By Tim Hannan

Extreme re-listening to popular songs reflects personality type.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Music plays an important role in our lives, and new digital technologies make it possible to access just about any song at the touch of a button. So why does my teenage daughter listen to the same few songs repeatedly? As far as I can tell, it is not due to any musical merit, as the selections in question all seem to me to be indistinguishable and utterly forgettable. (In defence of my parenting, I would add that her musical taste is not the result of deficiencies in her upbringing, as she was exposed to only classical music from the time of her birth – Dylan, Sondheim and Lehrer).

The repeated re-listening to specific songs warrants an explanation, as it appears counter to expectation. A 1960s study of radio playlists had shown that when a new song was broadcast frequently its popularity increased for a time; after reaching a peak, this trend then reversed. This pattern follows the “Wundt curve”, which depicts the observation that the pleasure elicited by a stimulus increases to a ceiling, after which repeated exposure to the stimulus decreases its hedonistic value. Yet it appears that for my daughter, as well as others of her species, continued exposure does not lead to the conclusion that the music is “not so sweet now as it was before”. Why does this happen?

A team of researchers has tried to answer this question – not specifically to address my personal...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.