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BRAIN BEAT  Music taps into memories and emotions in the brain, and a new app called Hooked! might explain how that happens.

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Pop music hit maker Clive Davis knows a catchy song when he hears one. Now an app aims to define that elusive quality more concretely.

Designed by computer and cognitive scientists at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Hooked! asks citizen scientists to help uncover the mystery ingredients of a hook — the most memorable part of a song. The results might illuminate how music taps into memories and emotions in the brain. First the app drops the needle somewhere in the middle of one of the 2,000 most popular songs of all time. Listeners quickly report whether they know the tune or not. To test whether the listener really does know the song, the app then turns off the music.

Listeners follow along in their heads until the tune restarts, then judge whether the song is in the right place or not. The better people are at remembering the song, the more likely the snippet is to be a hook, the researchers reason. Occasionally, the app also asks people to pick the catchiest snippet of a song. As people tune in, the program will analyze which sound patterns and qualities make a hook memorable. Hooked! is available free for iOS devices in the iTunes store. 

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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