Why do I remember useless information over useful information?

Why does every Disney lyric get stuck in our heads?
12 June 2018



Why do I remember useless information over useful information?


Chris Smith put Nat's question about Disney lyrics to neuroscientist Philipe Bujold, who gave us advice on how to Let it Go...

Philipe - I was going to say, I think I sang “Let it Go” all morning, actually. Yes, that is a common problem that people have and it’s something that’s really great for humans because, until quite recently, we didn’t have written language, right. So songs would have been a really good way to transmit information and there’s a really good reason why they are so good. Memories are a bit like networks. You can think of them in the brain as different neurons linking and showing specific patterns, so two similar memories might have similar patterns but differ in a few final roads, if you want. What happens is that a lot of these networks, the more neurons are involved, the easier it is to remember something. So while your oven might only have a specific network, you can think of the network as like a tree and you would have a trunk, and you can’t think of the trunk. What happens with other memories is that you would have multiple trunks going into that memory, so in music you have rhythms. You have what you were feeling when you were listening to it, you have what was happening when you were younger. So all of these things happen and, at the same time, you’re happy and you always try to reward yourself with things that make you happy so your brain will try to make you remember these things much more.

Chris - The Ancient Greeks, for example, and the Romans - Latin classicists - had poetry. And I put this to a classicist and said, "is that why poetry and the rules of the language became so rigid and were rigidly imposed?" Because, if you have a rule to go by, then you have to make the language fit the rule and then it helps you to remember. Because you’re remembering what the rule should be, you make the words fit that rule, and therefore it’s easier to remember what the message should be so you don’t distort your message...

Philipe - Exactly. And rhymes are a really good thing for this. Actually, there was a study done recently on can you remember more textbook information if you make it rhyme? And there’s a reason for ‘yes’ to be the answer. Basically you know what the rhymes going to be so your network is activating. You already know that the sentence is going to end with ‘ing’ for example, so you can fill that in with the rest of the information you have in your brain.

It’s actually quite clever and song is probably the best way to remember things.

Jess - Are there then mathematical formulas to create a song that has the most lasting impact on our memory? I know this word ‘earworm’, is that right? You make a pop song that people are going to like hearing it and then you sell an awful lot.

Chris They might be memorable for all the wrong reasons and actually more comes into it. I hate it so much!

Philipe - Exactly. There’s two things that can make you remember a song a lot more on that front. If you really like it you’ll remember it a lot; if you hate it yo will also remember it a lot.

Chris - Yeah, we’ve had that.

Philipe - Because you’re getting a lot of emotions involved. As for the perfect songs: I know there’s a lot of machine learning techniques being used at the moment to try and compose fake songs or songs that are not created by humans. I don’t know how that’s going. But pretty much every pop song uses the exact same four chords. There’s a reason for that: we keep remembering them a lot better. It’s a lot easier to sing let’s say Rihanna than sing some Frank Sinatra. I’m saying that, they might use the same four chords, but for me I can’t remember.

Chris - You should make that rhyme.

Philipe - I should really try, but yeah. So basically, songs that you hear a lot more you will remember. So even though there’s no necessarily perfect formula, although there might be right now I just don’t know that field enough, you might remember things that you hear more in public, so when you’re listening to the radio you have that.


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