Our brains are highly advanced prediction engines1. They are constantly trying to predict what will happen next so that we can be prepared for what’s coming. When our brain makes a successful prediction then we get rewarded with a tiny shot of dopamine that makes us feel good.

Musicians take advantage of this fact to make their new songs more attractive to their audiences by embedding familiar sounds that our brains can successfully predict. We get that little hit of dopamine and that makes us want to listen to more of the new song.

Check out this video on the Millennial Whoop and then read on.

The Millennial Whoop is an easy prediction inside something harder to predict. Everytime we hear the whoop, we get a hit of dopamine so we play it again. Pretty soon we’re getting a steady trickle of dopamine because the whole song has become predictable and we’re noticing how much we love this new song. Of course we do - we’re getting constant dopamine when we listen to it.

Over time, our brains decide that this song has become too easy to predict so it stops giving us the dopamine reward. So we lose interest in that song and move on to others. Then we hear a new song which is hard to predict but embedded within it is something familiar (another Millennial Whoop), so we start the cycle all over again.

This trick of embedding something familiar inside something new works with everything, not just music. Running a new exercise at work? Put something familiar in it. Allow our brains to make a couple of successful predictions and get that dopamine reward.

  1. Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett explains how our brains evolved as a prediction engine in her excellent book Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain