June 17, 2011

"Is There a Scientific Explanation for Justin Bieber?"

Asks Eric Felten at the Wall Street Journal.
"We have scientifically demonstrated that you can, to some extent, use neuroimaging in a group of people to predict cultural popularity," proclaimed Gregory Berns, who styles himself a "neuroeconomist." The divination is performed with the help of a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, or fMRI, scanning the brains of juveniles while they listen to demo records. Emory University plumped the findings with the bold headline, "Teen brain data predicts pop song success."

If true, this would be the equivalent of having tomorrow's stock pages today. Helpful, that. Determine what tickles the pleasure points of the adolescent id and you ought to be able to plot more efficiently how to separate teens from their money.
Aw, come on, guys! You should know the answer! Here, it's in this song:

50 comments:

Methadras said...

So if the Beatles were 15 and sang Beiber music they would be popular too?

Does this guy factor in the cultural evolution of music and the mores of the people listening to the music at the time?

gerry said...

Apparently Bieber has an appeal for drug lords, too.

Fred4Pres said...

Amanda Maracotte has a Beiber poster in her room.

rhhardin said...

With QE2, Fed Chairman Bernanke has opened Pandora’s box, and once you open the box, it’s hard to control. link

I question from the phrasing whether box isn't being thought of as anatomical.

Not that that isn't a better model of the economy.

E.M. Davis said...

Fabian
Frankie Avalon
Paul Anka
Ricky Nelson
Davy Jones
David Cassidy
Shaun Cassidy
The Bay City Rollers
Donny Osmond

Need I go on?

There may not be a scientific explanation, but there's certainly a historical one.

Dan in Philly said...

I see a disturbing trend of accepting these scientific studies without much criticism of the philosophy behind them: materialism. These scientists are not saying anything new, they are measuring stuff and supposing the measurements are the cause. It's like taking the pulse of someone after a shock and deciding the racing heart is the cause of the fear.

I'm not someone who thinks that the whole world, and in particular the human soul, can be explained by fluctuations which can be detected by an MRI, and it bothers me when those who believe otherwise have their findings so uncritically accepted.

Milwaukee said...

Excellent video. We are suffering from estrogen poisoning. A look at movie heroes over the decades shows a distinct movement away from very rugged masculine men to more feminized looking men. Women during different parts of their cycle prefer different types of men. The estrogen so many are taking disrupts the type of men they prefer so more feminine looking are then preferred.

Countless rivers suffer from estrogen poisoning, with surpluses of female fish, and male fish exhibiting less aggressive behavior. Waste water treatment plants deal with dangerous bacteria, not complex medicines. Whereas alcohol is mostly processed by the body, estrogen and many other drugs pass through unchanged. (Part of the thirst that accompanies a hang over is dehydration. The body uses water to break down the alcohol.) All of that estrogen runs back into the environment.

Pastafarian said...

I hope they're working on a cure.

Fred4Pres said...

Because adolecent girls are threatened by older men, as are their parents. A boy on the cusp of pubescency is less threatening and considered safe.

This is not rocket science.

Richard Dolan said...

"Neuroimaging proves ...."

Those are two words that should rarely be used in the same sentence. As it happens, this year's Second Circuit conference, held last week, had as its theme, Neuroscience and the Law. The conference planners assembled a group of top scientists, and a couple of law profs, to discuss it all. Neuroimaging studies are showing up in courtrooms today in a lot of different contexts -- e.g., capital sentencing (neuroimaging shows that the defendant couldn't help it), tort cases involving claims of chronic pain or enduring disabilities from minor medical conditions without any objective medical findings to support the claim (neuroimaging shows that brain functions were significantly throw off kilter), etc.

The first thing the conferees said to the audience (basically, all of the federal judges in the Second Circuit plus guests) was that, while neuroscience is a rapidly developing and exciting area of research, none of it is ready for prime time in the courtroom just yet. The data is extremely sensitive to 'interpretation error' -- the differences are often so tiny that no one can even calculate as yet error rates, and there's a lot of 'finding what you wanted to find' syndrome; even the meaning of 'normal' when talking about brain states/brain images is fraught, since there is lots of variation from patient to patient; etc.

The conference was informative but the take-away was: be very, very skeptical. In federal court, that skepticism shows up in rulings on Daubert motions. But it's a good way to approach any of this stuff, wherever it appears.

edutcher said...

Agree with EM, but he forgot Elvis.

Chip S. said...

These scientists are not saying anything new, they are measuring stuff and supposing the measurements are the cause.

I don't think that's quite right. The article is unsurprisingly vague on details, but it looks like they played a bunch of songs--some "hits," some not--then measured the brain responses to each. If that's all they did, then your comment is right on target. But I think they then take their data and try to correlate it with different musical characteristics of each song. If the list of musical characteristics is a good one, and if the (multiple) correlations are strong, then the results will have some predictive value if the estimated relationship is stable.

That's a lot of ifs, and the long string of them is the reason that these attempts usually fail. I keep hoping that Netflix will stop recommending crappy movies to me based on its inability to map my preferences well, but no luck so far.

AllenS said...

I must live a sheltered life. I've never seen Justin Bieber on the TV. Doing whatever he does.

virgil xenophon said...

Milwaukee is dead on factually, and Fred3Pres wins the thread with the Maracotte comment. PS: EMD Forgot Pat Boone as well..

virgil xenophon said...

"Is There a Scientific Explanation...?"

I'm reminded of an episode of the cartoon series Pinky and the Brain in which, after the failure of one of The Brain's Rube-Goldburg schemes to take over the world based on radio transmissions to the teeth fillings of target subjects and spreading by the electro-static skin tension from one to another, explains the failure to Pinky by reviewing a chalk-board of mathematical equations saying: "Pinky, EVERYTHING can be explained by physics!"--To which Pinky "innocently" asks: "SOooo---does physics explain why Donny & Marie Osmond have a prime-time national TV Variety show?" To which The Brain draws himself up to full height and declares in his best Stentorian tones: "Pinky, there are some things that not even the Laws of Physics can explain!"
LOL!!!

E.M. Davis said...

Agree with EM, but he forgot Elvis.

Elvis is still relevant. Is Shaun Cassidy? No.

Elvis was also much more sexualized than the others.

As my whimsy leads me.. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
As my whimsy leads me.. said...

What ever the explanation, it must be the same as wat fueled the infatuation with Menudo, The New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys, etc. I heard on the radio that today is the anniversary of NKOTB getting their first #1 record, "I'll Be Loving You(Forever)" in 1989. I once had to listen to them for 9 hours on a trip to North Carolina. (Or rather, let my daughter get away with playing them.) Ugh. I can't say that her tastes have improved much, but they are defininitley aimed at less syrupy bands.

Toy

The Crack Emcee said...

"Is There a Scientific Explanation for Justin Bieber?"

Yes - we've fallen into a black hole.

The Crack Emcee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
edutcher said...

E.M. Davis said...

Agree with EM, but he forgot Elvis.

Elvis is still relevant. Is Shaun Cassidy? No.

Elvis was also much more sexualized than the others.


Wasn't sure relevance was part of the mix, but certainly Paul Anka and maybe Ricky Nelson would qualify.

Anka wrote a lot of the definitive teen ballads.

virgil xenophon said...

Continuing...

Want an explanation for Bieber? Ask yourself why are there no male groupies? Or just look at old vids of screaming rapturous young teenage/pre-teen girls at Beetles Concerts. Or the more recent sight of grown women feinting/swooning at Obama rallys. Is it any wonder that men (en grosso mondo) have so little respect for women's powers of mental acuity?

Titus said...

I don't know one Justin Bieber song.

I only know about his hair which I hate.

virgil xenophon said...

Continuing...

Want an explanation for Bieber? Ask yourself why are there no male groupies? Or just look at old vids of screaming rapturous young teenage/pre-teen girls at Beetles Concerts. Or the more recent sight of grown women feinting/swooning at Obama rallys. Is it any wonder that men (en grosso mondo) have so little respect for women's powers of mental acuity?

virgil xenophon said...

damned blogger...

the wolf said...

Music went to hell once the Five Neat Guys broke up.

ampersand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ampersand said...

Rudy Vallee,Bing Crosby and especially Frank Sinatra had this effect as well.

The question is ,Is it the talent,the fame or the money that drives the young girls mad?

Chip S. said...

The question is ,Is it the talent,the fame or the money that drives the young girls mad?

The last two are consequences of the first, but mostly because of the interaction of some amount of talent with raging hormones among the fan base,

Dan in Philly said...

"But I think they then take their data and try to correlate it with different musical characteristics of each song. If the list of musical characteristics is a good one, and if the (multiple) correlations are strong, then the results will have some predictive value if the estimated relationship is stable."

Chip S, the problem as I see it is here is someone taking scientific data and drawing philosophical conclusions on it. Philosophy has been chained to science for a while now, but I think it has been an error to do so, since science is generally filled with materialist pre-suppositions (that is, they ignore anything they cannot prove).

To me, philosophy should take what science has to offer and recognize the limitations of it. I think the best scientists in the past did this, but as they died their inheritors took the materialistic assumptions of science and applied them to their philosophy, as well. Since this was never the purpose of science, we get good scientists who are poor philosophers making conclusions which are full of fallacy.

MarkG said...

In his book, Life, Keith Richards writes about the early years of the Stones and the screaming, adoring teens. A custodian quipped once after a show: "There's not a dry seat in the house."

Chip S. said...

Dan, I honestly didn't notice the tie to philosophy in the article, so my comment wasn't directed at that point. I would certainly agree that viewing fMRI as a window on the soul would be specious. I also think that the researcher in this case is probably embarrassed by the over-enthusiastic press release issued by his university's PR people.

I think this particular application is directed at understanding tastes rather than values, something marketers are always trying to do. If they can do it well, their employers avoid wasting a lot of resources on failed products. But the New Coke fiasco shows very well the limits of marketing studies. Funny that the biz school at this researcher's home university (Emory) is named after the CEO behind the introduction of New Coke.

Synova said...

I couldn't listen to it because they were lipsyncing adult men. There isn't any reason that four kids couldn't do barbershop. It's the harmony, not the octave. It would have been really cute.

Methadras said...

Synova said...

I couldn't listen to it because they were lipsyncing adult men. There isn't any reason that four kids couldn't do barbershop. It's the harmony, not the octave. It would have been really cute.


I think these are girls dressed as boys.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Many pubescent girls fear agressive men, but enjoy imagining themselves in love with a non-threatening boy toy. They are in for a big, hard surprise.

E.M. Davis said...

Wasn't sure relevance was part of the mix, but certainly Paul Anka and maybe Ricky Nelson would qualify.

The question is, will Bieber still be a part of the enduring musical lexicon of the next 50 years? My bet is on no.

My effort was to omit those which became bigger tha the teen idol status bestowed upon them early in their careers. Sinatra certainly became bigger. Vallee was huge in his day, but has he truly endured? I mean, there aren't posters of Vallee on sale in Target as I speak.

Yes, Anka and Nelson are more relevant than others, but they're clearly not in the Elvis class.

E.M. Davis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curious George said...

"Is There a Scientific Explanation for Justin Bieber?"

I thought it was the same as all of us...sperm...egg...

bagoh20 said...

Me, AllenS, and Titus are alike in at least two ways: We like it here, and we don't know squat about Bieber.

I'm not sure, but I also think none of us have women hanging around the house much. Coincidence?

bagoh20 said...

Who gets imitated more: Elvis or Santa?

Chip S. said...

bagoh20, All you need to know about Justin Bieber is that he's the latest in a long, long line of pop singers who perform the valuable social function of allowing the proclamation of the superior nature of one's musical taste by people for whom this would not otherwise be apparent.

Well, that and the fact that, AFAIK, he's the first male teen idol who's regularly imitated by lesbians.

Synova said...

"Many pubescent girls fear agressive men, but enjoy imagining themselves in love with a non-threatening boy toy."

Not me. Never did. I don't think I ever crushed on a guy more than four years older than me, but I'm sure my parents wondered why he always had to be over six feet tall with a beard. (It's a wonder my school let my Junior year prom date through the door.)

"They are in for a big, hard surprise."

(Checks headers... nope, not at Ace of Spades...)

BarrySanders20 said...

They had such a good opportunity to substitute "Beaver, Beaver, Beaver" lyrics, but they didn't and now the moment is gone.

WV: tribeau. This quartet minus one.

Synova said...

Oh, and I suppose that the other side of "nonthreatening" is "bad boy."

Never saw the attraction of "bad boy" either. The whole thing seemed too short sighted and stupid.

Perhaps I was an unnatural child.

JAL said...

Justin Bieber looks like a girl.

JAL said...

Oh my.

I finally agree with Titus on something.

I can't stand Bieber's hair.

el polacko said...

talk about over-'thinking' it! the kid is just damned cute...with a great backstory as someone who came to fame by posting his home-made videos on youtube, singing for tips on the street, and, thereby, building his own career rather than being the product of a teen-idol machine like disney. plus beiber isn't a half-bad singer, which is something rare in current pop music. so more power to him for ignoring the haters and living his american dream.

michaele said...

Bieber went against his cutesy boy next door image to play a troubled teen in several CSI Las Vegas episodes. He finished things with a bang, getting shot and killed by furious police fire during a stand-off.
So, I guess the kid is wisely trying to expand his footprint in the entertainment business. The pretty boy singer gig usually has a short shelf life.

abeer ahmed said...

visit us on lifeandstylemag.com
http://whois.domaintasks.com/lifeandstylemag.com