A new study by Emory University, published in the new issue of NeuroImage, sheds light on how teen behavior can impact the music they discover and share.

Kids aged 12 to 17 were asked to rate a song based on how much they liked it. Later, they were asked to rate the same song again. When they did not know other kids’ ratings, they changed their rating 12% of the time. When they did know what other kids though of the song, they changed their rating 22% of the time. Three quarters of them changed the rating to be more similar to that of their peers. Upon hearing a song the second time, researchers found, regions of the brain associated with pain and anxiety were activated.

Adults have exhibited the same behavior. A 2006 study by Columbia University researchers found that social influence is as important as quality in determining market share of tracks downloaded in the experiment. What people want depends on what they think other people want. That brings a lot of randomness to success.

“That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to anticipate the future, any more than we should stop trying to make sense of the past,” wrote researcher Duncan J. Watts at the New York Times. “But it does mean that we should treat both the predictions and the explanations we are served…with the skepticism they deserve.”

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