Monday, October 04, 2021

Music can be infectious like a virus - the same mathematical model works for both

Rosati et al. find that a standard model of epidemic disease, called the SIR model, fitts trends in song downloads over time:
Popular songs are often said to be ‘contagious’, ‘infectious’ or ‘viral’. We find that download count time series for many popular songs resemble infectious disease epidemic curves. This paper suggests infectious disease transmission models could help clarify mechanisms that contribute to the ‘spread’ of song preferences and how these mechanisms underlie song popularity. We analysed data from MixRadio, comprising song downloads through Nokia cell phones in Great Britain from 2007 to 2014. We compared the ability of the standard susceptible–infectious–recovered (SIR) epidemic model and a phenomenological (spline) model to fit download time series of popular songs. We fitted these same models to simulated epidemic time series generated by the SIR model. Song downloads are captured better by the SIR model, to the same extent that actual SIR simulations are fitted better by the SIR model than by splines. This suggests that the social processes underlying song popularity are similar to those that drive infectious disease transmission. We draw conclusions about song popularity within specific genres based on estimated SIR parameters. In particular, we argue that faster spread of preferences for Electronica songs may reflect stronger connectivity of the ‘susceptible community’, compared with the larger and broader community that listens to more common genres.

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