Teen brain scans predict whether a pop song’s a chart-topping hit or less than a success

Could the teen brain identify chart-topping pop music hits -- and duds -- before a big-shot producer ever could?

Perhaps, according to a study published online June 8 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Almost by accident, some previous research by Emory University scientists into the teen brain showed that adolescents’ brain activity could potentially predict a song’s ultimate success or failure.

Back in 2006, Emory University neuroeconomist Gregory Berns had 27 teens between age 12 and 17 listen to 120 songs picked from Myspace that were relatively unknown artists without recording contracts, and measured the teens’ brain activity. This was for a different study, meant to measure how peer pressure affects teens’ opinions. But three years later, Berns caught one of the once-unknown Myspace songs being performed on “American Idol.” It was ‘Apologize’ by One Republic, and it had become a hit.

The researchers already knew that brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum could generally predict a person’s choices. But could it also predict whether other people -- whose brains were not scanned -- decided to buy that music? Could a few teens’ brain activity predict a song’s eventual mass popularity?


For this new study, researchers looked back at the sales figures for the original 27 songs from 2007 to 2010 and compared them to the brain reactions they’d elicited. Teens’ brain scans predicted 90% of the dud songs and predicted the songs that made it over the 20,000 mark in sales about a third of the time.

And, strangely enough, the teens’ brains were better at predicting a song’s success than the teens themselves were. When they were asked to rate the songs on a scale of 1 to 5, their ratings didn’t correlate with the songs’ popularity at all.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.