Press release

#Hooked: a citizen science experiment into what makes music memorable

Researchers hope a newly launched experiment on music hooks could help future research into Alzheimer’s disease.

‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie Minogue has been voted as the catchiest tune in a poll of 700 people to launch the largest-ever experiment into what makes music memorable, as part of Manchester Science Festival (24 October-3 November) in partnership with Siemens. Actress Lily Cole, TV presenter Carol Vorderman, broadcaster Janet Street-Porter and Science Minister David Willetts were among those who nominated their favourite catchy tunes.

#Hooked is a citizen science project by Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow Dr Erinma Ochu and the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester (MOSI). Created by computational musicologist John Ashley Burgoyne and his team at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, this mass experiment will see thousands of people nominating a tune for the playlist to help scientists understand our musical memory.

The researchers hope that findings from #Hooked could aid future research into Alzheimer’s disease as the experiment could help scientists predict the catchiest musical fragments and devise ways to trigger memories and provide therapeutic benefits.

An initial survey of 700 participants was held to launch an appeal for song nominations for a larger #Hooked playlist with thousands of songs suggested by the public. ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke came in at second place in the initial poll, and ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk was third. Once enough songs are gathered, people will be invited to play a simple ‘name-that-tune’ citizen science game designed by Dr Burgoyne that will be launched in early 2014. The game aims to identify the catchiest part of the tune and find why is it so memorable.

Dr Ochu, MOSI’s resident citizen science pioneer, said: “This mass experiment is a not only a great way to harness the wisdom of the crowd to gather data on what makes a musical hook but it will hopefully also get people talking about, listening to and sharing music. Much of human history is remembered through songs and, as an added bonus, we aim to tap into, evoke and share the musical memories of many generations around the world.”

Professor Alistair Burns of the Institute of the Institute of Brain, Behaviour and Mental Health at the University of Manchester added: “Music is really important in accessing long-term memories. Many dementia support groups use music, singing and personalised playlists to help those with failing memory. The results from #Hooked could certainly have implications for improving the quality of life for people with dementia.”

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts chose the track ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra as his favourite catchy tune. He said: “#Hooked is a good example of citizen science: engaging, entertaining but also adding to the sum of knowledge about ourselves and the world we live in. I wish it every success in its global data gathering and look forward to seeing the results next year as part of the Age of the Brain.”

#Hooked launches at Manchester Science Festival and runs until September 2014. During the Festival, people can contribute their catchiest songs and stories to build the playlist and scientists will debate the science of what makes music catchy, from hooks to earworms and hit songs. There will be a silent disco and shows about music with ‘Captain Hooked’. Nominations for the playlist (which runs across all musical genres) will continue in the run-up to the launch of the #Hooked game in early 2014.

To nominate your catchiest tune to the #Hooked playlist and find out more about #Hooked, and Manchester Science Festival, visit the Manchester Science Festival website.