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Turns Out Viral Songs And Infectious Diseases Have A Lot In Common – Here Is How

We’re all victims of this virus

According to new research from Great Britain, catchy songs that become an instant hit and ‘go viral’ are downloaded in a very similar way to the spread of an actual viral infection. Huh, guess we’ve all had the Billie Eilish ‘Bad Guy’ virus….

The data was collected from the pre-streaming days but the procedure is more or less the same; the tunes jump from one host to another just like a pathogen infecting the human body. When researchers tracked song downloads from Nokia cellphones between 2007 and 2014, it quickly became clear that some catchy songs fit right in the infectious disease model, known as the susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) model. “Popular songs are often described as ‘viral’ or ‘catchy’ as if they could ‘infect’ people; perhaps this description is more apt than has been previously recognized,” the authors write.

The SIR model was developed to highlight the underlying processes behind the transfer of viral diseases and is now being used to make similar inferences about popular music too. The download time series for many songs is similar to the time series for infectious diseases which makes their study related to some extent.

The idea behind the correlation between sickness and song has been a hot topic for decades, with many researchers suggesting that it could also be linked to the structure of a community and how a particular song gets popular that instantly. Neuroimaging studies have also found that teenagers are likely to change their opinion about a song when they hear about someone else’s opinion on it. 

According to the authors, the popularity of a song depends on the specific population just like the spread of infection starts from one person before swallowing the whole community. “At the end of a disease epidemic, a large proportion of the population will have been infected with the disease,” the authors explain, “whereas at the end of a hit song’s period of extreme popularity, a large proportion of the population will recognize that song.”

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Maybe it’s time we carefully choose which songs we want to listen to depending on our taste, and not just go with what everyone else is suggesting…