A new study confirms that music is ‘infectious’ like a virus


The Guardian has reported on a new study that researches the ways in which various musical genres are different levels of ‘infectious’, similar to a virus. Quite timely if you ask us. Regardless, the results of the study are fascinating, with Electronica coming out as the clear, winner, or ‘the most infectious’ genre. The studies biggest finding however, is that it is really possible to infect your social circle with your music taste, reflecting that the pattern of music downloads after their release resembles epidemic curves for infectious disease.

The study was lead by Dora Rosati of McMaster University, who with a team of mathematicians used epidemic curves to analyse the ways in which songs become popular. They used a database of 1.4 billion songs and found that the top 1000 sounds downloaded in the UK between 2007 and 2014 all followed a classic model of epidemic disease.

The researchers used a measurement of the basic reproduction number (R0), which rates each respective music genres ability to spread. Dance music had the lowest R0 at a mere 2.8, Metal the next lowest at 3.7. Then came pop rock and hip, and electronica at the top, having an R0 of 3,430. That’s 190 times bigger than the R0 for measles which is about 18. This doesn’t necessarily mean the genre is anywhere near popular as the aforementioned, however it suggests that the music is more likely to be faster thread through its population of fans.

Rosati’s conclusions were extremely interesting. She stated, “It implies that a lot of the social processes that drive the spread of disease, or analogues of those processes, might also be driving the spread of songs. More specifically, it supports the idea that both music and infectious diseases depend on social connections to spread through populations.”

“With a disease, if you come into contact with someone who is ill, then you have a certain chance of catching that disease. With songs, it looks very similar. The big difference is that for songs, it doesn’t necessarily have to be physical contact – it could be that my friend used this cool new song in their Instagram story, so now I’m going to go and find it.”

Dr Thomas Rawson, a disease modeller at Imperial College London stated, “Diseases are limited in how they can spread by requiring physical interaction,” said Rawson. “The reason why we might see some really sky-high R0s for songs is that you can just make a tweet and you have already infected a hundred people. You can spread a song disease far quicker than you could an infectious disease.”

Words by Parry Tritsiniotis




Parry Talks, and also writes.