There’s a very real reason why people can’t seem to get the viral children’s song “Baby Shark” out of their heads. According to scientific experts, the tune’s repetitive lyrics and fast tempo trigger the pleasure center in the brain.
“The song has a simple melody that is not only ‘catchy,’ but is also easy to sing and memorize,” Beatriz Ilari, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, explained to The Daily Beast in an article published on Tuesday. That catchiness can actually increase dopamine in a child’s brain, leading to an intense feeling of pleasure.
Not only are the lyrics repetitive, but they’re simple, making them easy for kids to latch onto. And words like baby, daddy, mommy, grandpa, and grandma, children “help create a connection or a bond with the music,” Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientific consultant, said, in the same article.“These are people that children are likely to have a very positive connection with, providing a pathway to target the emotion and reward systems in the brain.”
The upbeat tempo of “Baby Shark” also explains its popularity. Similar to how catchy adult pop songs are, “[Faster music] targets the brainstem and other ancient brain systems in our brain and has the potential to stimulate dopamine systems involved in movement,” Salimpoor noted. “Synchronization of movement with beat patterns can also be highly pleasurable because it involves formation of predictions.”
“Baby Shark,” which debuted at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 list for the week ending January 12, has one other thing working in its favor when it comes to how it affects the brain: it contains a visual component with a brightly colored, captivating video.
“The video aspect is very important—children are not only listening but are ‘viewing’ and performing the song,” said Ilari, who added that a 2015 version of the song, which did not include images of real children dancing, did not go viral like the 2016 version did, with over 2.2 billion views on YouTube.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Kimmel has joked that the creator of Baby Shark should be put in prison, while other parents are turning away from digital music in favor of more old-school methods.
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