Hamilton McMaster University disease researchers find popular music spreads like infection

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By Anthony Urciuoli

Posted on September 23, 2021 at 3:23 p.m.

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton have found that, like a virus, after a new hit song is released, it quickly spreads through a population.

It’s not something you need to be vaccinated against – unless it’s a song you really hate – but researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton have applied the modeling used for infectious diseases to study the spread of popular music.

The results suggest that, like a virus, after a new hit song is released, it quickly spreads through a population. It is passed from person to person through various media, eventually peaking in popularity before losing its appeal.

“At the end of an epidemic of the disease, a large part of the population will have been infected,” said Dora Rosati, lead author of the study. “Likewise, at the end of the period of extreme popularity of a hit song, a large part of the population will recognize that song. “

Rosati conducted the research under the supervision of David Earn, professor in the department of mathematics and statistics, and collaborated with his colleagues Ben Bolker, professor of mathematics, statistics and biology, and Matthew Woolhouse, associate professor in the School of the Arts. .

The researchers compiled data from a database of 1.4 billion downloads of individual songs from 33 countries. The data was stored on Nokia cell phones over a period of seven years and included several genres. However, they focused their analysis on song downloads in Britain.

The study determined that contagious processes revealed by a mathematical model for infectious diseases could also be at work in the popularity of the songs. Music and infectious diseases depend on social relationships to spread across populations.

“Whether it’s a disease infecting many people or a song that’s becoming popular, some kind of social contact is needed,” says Earn.

“For an infectious disease, it’s usually about physical contact or breathing air near an infected person. For a song, contact can involve physical proximity, but it can also be virtual contact via social media. In both cases, the transmission relies on social networks.

For example, modeling suggests that electro fans share songs more actively or effectively than other genres. The social network of electronica fans could be more strongly connected than others. They may even be more passionate about their favorite artists.

Rosati believes the research opens up a new way to research the popularity of songs in the future.

“In the same way that we can now use mathematical models of the spread of disease to learn things like the average duration of an individual’s infection, the final size of an epidemic, or the duration of an epidemic, we Maybe we could use those same models to learn things like how long, on average, a person will listen to a song, how many people in total will download a song, or how long a song could be popular, ”she says.

The study was published in the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

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