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You've heard of love at first sight. How about love at first sound?

New York University researchers led by Pascal Wallisch, a professor at the University's Center for Data Science, investigated why people love and hate different music and found that they typically know if they like a song within seconds of listening.
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New York University researchers led by Pascal Wallisch, a professor at the University's Center for Data Science, investigated why people love and hate different music and found that they typically know if they like a song within seconds of listening.

Updated February 16, 2023 at 5:02 PM ET

You've heard of love at first sight. But how about love at first sound?

Pascal Wallisch, a neuroscientist at New York University, wanted to find out how long it takes for a person to love or hate a song. So he and his research team put together a playlist.

‌"We picked 260 songs, eight genres and seven subgenres. With jazz there was cool jazz and big band jazz just as there were different versions of rock."

The artists included Mozart, Beethoven, Elvis, Michel Jackson, The Sex Pistols, Kanye West and Frankie Yankovic.

Wallisch and his team took these songs, cut them into 3120 short clips and played them to more than 600 volunteers. Then, they asked people to rate each clip.

"There was love it, strongly like it, slightly like it, indifferent, slightly dislike, strongly dislike and hate it."

The researchers kept playing shorter and shorter clips. They wanted to see how quickly people formed an opinion of the song.

Wallisch said, "The shortest we tried was five seconds and five seconds turned out to be perfect."

In other words, it didn't take long for people to form an opinion about the song. Those first impressions turned out to be lasting impressions.

Participants stood by their initial opinions even after hearing a longer part of the song. Wallisch said the results were contrary to what we know about movie trailers.

"With movie trailers, sometimes you like the trailer but you didn't like the movie or you liked the movie even though you didn't like the trailer."

Wallisch said he would like to study which areas of the brain respond or "light up" when short music snippets are played. But that would require participants to undergo an MRI scan while listening. The problem is that MRI machines are loud.

"They do not offer the best environment for appreciating music."

There were some differences in opinion about music between gender and race. But perhaps not surprisingly there was a political divide.

"Liberals pretended to like jazz more than they actually did. Whereas conservatives were honest about that. They said they didn't like it and they really didn't like it," Wallisch said.

But no matter what kind of music you may like, remember these words from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Take a music bath once or twice a week, and you will find that music is to the soul what the water bath is to the body."

The digital version of this story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.