12,000 people listened to a clip of a song as part of an experiment to find out
The Spice Girls’ hit Wannabe is the most instantly recognisable song in British music history, scientists claim.
People taking part in an experiment recognised the 1996 number one in just 2.29 seconds, compared with an average of five seconds for other popular songs.
The second most recognisable was Lou Bega’s Mambo No 5, which participants could identify in 2.48 seconds. The third was Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, with an average time of 2.62 seconds.
More than 12,000 participants took part in the online experiment which involved an interactive game, called Hooked on Music.
Developed by the Museum of Science and Industry (Mosi), it involves listening to a clip of the catchiest part of a song randomly selected from more than 1,000 clips of best-selling songs dating from the 1940s until the present day
The time it took them to recognise it was then recorded.
It took the average person just 2.29 seconds to recognise Wannabe from the song’s catchiest hook, 45 seconds in.
Overall, it took participants took an average of five seconds to recognise Wannabea clip from one of the UK’s best-selling records.
The Hooked on Music concept was designed by Ashley Burgoyne, a computational musicologist from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues.
“I work within a group that studies music cognition in general – any way in which the brain processes music – and we were particularly interested in music and memory and why exactly it is that certain pieces of music stay in your memory for such a long time,” he told BBC News.
“You may only hear something a couple of times yet 10 years later you immediately realise that you have heard it before.
“When we went to look at this, you would have thought that it would have been studied to death yet, in fact, it has not – there is very little scientific literature,” he said.
“There are lots of ideas [about] why this is the case but very, very little empirical research.”
The initial results from the study will be unveiled at the Manchester Science Festival on Saturday.