The Phoenix

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Attack of the Earworms!

The term "earworm" was coined by consumer psychologist James Kellaris. An earworm is a phenomena that plagues most people - when a tune gets stuck in your head. Maybe it's the song that comes blaring out of your clock radio in the morning...or perhaps it's the last song you hear on the way to the office. It's as if the song burns into your brain, playing literally all day long.

Why does this happen?

Psychologists believe these catchy songs create this "cognitive itch" that the act of replaying the song over and over again is the only way to scratch it. It's the brain's way of closing a gap within lyrics, melody, and rhythm. For example, if I were to sing "Row, row, row your boat..." and stop, your brain would complete the song - obviously only if you were familiar with the song. The auditory cortex part of your brain would still be firing away, playing the rest of the tune in your head.

Is there a cure? You gotta help me...my brain keeps singing that stupid Barney theme song: "I love you, you love me...we're happy family..."

There's no real way to figure out what song will become an earworm. There are a few patterns researches have found concerning potential earworms, however:

>The tune is simple (simple lyrics, melody, rhyme)
>The tune is repetitive
>Songs with lyrics, for most people...although more musical people can get hooked on melody and scale
>Women seem to get more irritated and frustrated by earworms
>Neurotic people seem to be more susceptible
>People constantly exposed to music have more bouts of earworm attacks

So what's a person to do? Dr. Kellaris recommends the following:

>Listen to the radio (simple replacement)
>Distract yourself with another activity
>Sing the REST of the song, not just the part your brain is replaying over and over again. Your brain is trying to close the loop, so CLOSE it yourself...go find the lyrics if you have to
>Chew cinnamon sticks - not sure if it works, but one test subject swore by it

Another test subject reported having a case of earworm for over 6 months. I think I'd jump off a bridge.

Here are some songs I would think would be common earworms:

It's a Small World After All
This is the Song That Never Ends...
Mmm Bop
Meow Mix Jingle (meow meow meow meow)
YMCA
Oompa Loompa doopidity doo
Chili's Jingle (I want my baby back, baby back, baby back...ribs)
I'm a Little Tea Pot
Who Let the Dogs Out
Don't Worry, Be Happy
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
We Will Rock You
Whoomp There It Is

What song plauges the corner of your brain when you least expect it?

18 Comments:

Blogger Meagan said...

I tend to bust out with "I've been workin' on the railroad" ocassionally and oddly enough.

This is an interesting blog subject; good post! By the way, that first photo you have there of the four chords... yeah, I had to take poppy (my computer) to the piano and play them. Not an earworm chord progression :-)

love meagan

9/25/2005 6:35 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

My demon is Ice Ice Baby: "Will it ever stop, yo I don't know..."

9/25/2005 7:47 PM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

"Turn off the lights, and I'll glow!"

9/25/2005 8:05 PM  
Blogger Chicken Little said...

I regularly experience songs that are burned into my brain for a week or two straight.

The worst was close to 6 months of hearing David Cassidy singing "I think I love you"

It was finally knocked off the playlist by something else.

9/25/2005 9:58 PM  
Blogger kyknoord said...

Six months? Wow, talk about obsessive.

9/26/2005 7:35 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

Six months is a long time to have ANY song stuck to your head.

Usually, my earworms only last an hour or two at the longest.

I personally believe women are more apt to have them since their brains are better at multi-tasking.

9/26/2005 8:11 AM  
Blogger Doug Worgul said...

Current earworm here:

"You Can't Always Get What You Want"

9/26/2005 11:01 AM  
Blogger Nan said...

Hi Phoenix - sorry about the *her* - I know you're a *him* - must have been thinking about something else - it will be corrected :D ! Sincerely Nan

9/26/2005 11:02 AM  
Blogger Sherri said...

'Come Sail Away' (Styx) currently replaying over and over again in my head. It was the last song I heard playing on the radio before I got to work, and I turned the car off mid song.

9/26/2005 11:02 AM  
Blogger KC said...

"That's all right, Mama, that's all right for you, that's all right Mama, just anyway you do..." I don't know why this song gets stuck in my head so often, but it does. I actually like it, tho, so it's not a problem. In fact, I like it so much that I downloaded it as a ringtone for my cell phone. Now when The Boy calls me from home, I know he's looking for "mama".

9/26/2005 11:14 AM  
Blogger The Phoenix said...

Doug...
Sorry about that earworm...you should try the "Gilligan Island" theme song. It might work.

Kim C,
I also have that repeating earworm that hits me every so often without me thinking. A few songs do that to me...one of them is that stupid song by Sheriff, from the 80s. "Lost in Love."

Why? Not a clue...I hate the song, but I will be humming it as I'm fixing something or tying my shoes.

Sherri,
I'm a big Styx fan. Mr. Roboto finds it's way into my brain at least twice a month.

9/26/2005 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

I say dont fight it....give in to the song.

9/26/2005 3:57 PM  
Anonymous the weirdgirl said...

Kids' songs get stuck in my head all the time. Those are the most annoying. And that tune Copperhead whistles in Kill Bill. I usually cure earworm by singing the words, or if I don't know the words I make up my own. They invariably turn out to be dirty lyrics but it still works (Dora Dora Dora is a Whore-a! She only charges two bucks in Bora Bora, etc).

Of course, I can't do that with the Kill Bill song, but you get the idea.

9/26/2005 4:18 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

One for me is "Who let the dogs out!" Yikes!
Peace..............

9/26/2005 9:49 PM  
Blogger Pixie said...

Yes..quite often its a song you dont even like that much , then its particularly annoying...

At the weekend I had Macy Playground -Sex and Candy for two days solid.But its quite often the opening riff to smoke on the water.

9/27/2005 9:53 AM  
Anonymous The Spider said...

Songs that will become earworms and remove any other earworm from your head (I believe, and have had this confirmed by friends):

"You Dropped A Bomb On Me" by the Gap Band
"Brick House" by the Commodores

I swear, they clear anything out of your head.

9/30/2005 12:17 PM  
Blogger Bud Wiser said...

Great page! Excellent points! Hope I can get away from my lg ringtone long enough to come back again! Keep up the great work!
lg ringtone

10/02/2005 3:35 AM  
Blogger succvbi said...

That Dr. Pepper comercial Manana do do dododo it infested my brain for 2 weeks straight everywhere I went it was there.

10/13/2005 5:18 AM  

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Welcome to the blog that aims to examine the lighter side of science. From the paranormal to wacky inventions, to strange mysteries and goofy experiments, I cover it all. Thanks for stoping by blazingtalons.com...where science is always stranger than fiction







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