News Stories

When Earworms Invade

Jessica Kovler writes in the August 12th New York Times that "There's nothing nicer than a tune playing in your head?until you can't turn it off." And when you get a song stuck in your brain, it always seems to be some stupid advertising jingle or trivial tune that you never liked much anyway. Why do some songs stick, and what can we do to erase them?

The problem doesn't just bother individuals, it sometimes plagues whole communities. A community board in Brooklyn, New York, has put a limit on the number of times an ice cream truck is allowed to play the "Mr. Softee" tune. Researcher James Kellaris calls these tunes "earworms." He's found they bother 98% of us at least some of the time, and obsessive types are most likely to get tunes stuck in their heads.

Common earworms are "Who Let the Dogs Out" (played at Mets baseball games), "Y.M.C.A." (played at almost every teen dance), "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (who knows why?) and "It's a Small World After All" (no one who's been to Disney World can get rid of that one).

Musicians have a major problem with earworms. Neil Diamond says, "If I wasn't in the business of songwriting, I'd probably be seeing a doctor. I've tried everything from cold showers to listening to other people's music, but nothing helps."

Kovler says, "?Research has shown that musical training leads to changes in brain function and structure in regions?involved in the perception of melody. Some kind of self-perpetuating stimulus of these circuits may explain why familiar tunes?can literally become branded in the brain."

The effect is greater when sound is linked to motion. Researcher Petr Janata says, "The whole body remembers the tune," which may be why "Y.M.C.A." is on everyone's earworm list.

Sometimes singing the song out loud will help to get it dislodged from your brain. "It's a familiar pattern of itching and scratching," Kellaris says. His other advice? "Don't worry?be happy. It's a small world after all and one day we will lift up our chin, and grin, and say, whoomp--there it is."

At unknowncountry, we have wonderful music that's guaranteed not to invade your lobes.





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