Your brain can identify a song in 100 milliseconds

That lump of squish our skulls is a pretty amazing thing. Not only can store about 200 exabytes of memory but it can process more data in a second than a supercomputer can managed in a whole day.

And while there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut evolutionary need for the brain to process, store, remember, and create music, we seem hardwired for it.

Our musical memories–that vast database of what songs sound like–live in a separate and distinct part of the brain from our day-to-day short term memories and those which stretch back years. And the brain’s ability to retrieve a musical memory is pretty frickin’ amazing.

I once had a speaking presentation called “I Can Name That Song in One Second or Less.” People had no trouble identifying songs like “Stairway to Heaven” or “American Woman” after hearing a clip that ran anywhere from 0.4 to 0.9 of a second. That’s all it took for brains to process the audio, retrieve the memory, and then react.

Newsweek reports on a study that suggests the actual brain reaction time to a familiar song is 100 milliseconds. The research could lead to a better understanding into areas like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Read the full story here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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