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Why do songs get stuck in your head?
The Straight Dope ^ | October 16, 2009 | Cecil Adams

Posted on 10/24/2009 4:34:36 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows

October 16, 2009

Dear Cecil:

What’s the deal with getting a song stuck in your head? Why does it happen, especially if it’s a song you don’t like or don’t even know well? Yet all you can think about is that stupid tune. Please enlighten me; I’m getting really sick of “Tainted Love” running circles through my brain.

Meg

Cecil replies:

You think you’ve got problems? My assistant Una claims she had the same tune running through her head off and on for 27 years. Only after laborious research online was she able to establish what it was: a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi, which at least has some class. Can you imagine 27 years of “Achy Breaky Heart”?

As is all too often the case with the interesting parts of science, we don’t know much about this phenomenon but we have a good name for it: earworm, a translation of the German Ohrwurm. (Use the German if you want anyone to pay attention to you in the faculty lounge.) People have been interested in earworms for a while now — Mark Twain used one as a plot device in his 1876 story “A Literary Nightmare.” They’re the most common type of what’s called “involuntary imagery,” sounds, pictures, smells, and even tastes that repeatedly come to mind unbidden.

One theory is that earworms are a form of mild musical hallucination (normally a rare experience), the distinction being that with an earworm you (a) usually aren’t on drugs or suffering from schizophrenia and thus (b) are fully aware there’s no actual music being played outside of your skull. Another theory is that earworms are a side effect of your brain trying to consolidate memories, akin to what happens in REM sleep. Yet another possibility is pondered by neurologist Oliver Sacks in his book Musicophilia: earworms might simply be a consequence of our being surrounded by music in our lives whether we want to be or not.

A more promising line of investigation in my opinion is to focus on the earworminess of particular songs. Una contacted the office of James Kellaris, a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati who’s styled himself “Dr. Earworm” after years studying the subject, to learn more about a theory of his known as “cognitive itch.” According to Kellaris, “certain pieces of music may have properties that excite an abnormal reaction in the brain” — in other words, your brain detects something extraordinary or unusual about the music that compels attention. Your brain tries to process the itch by repeating it, which only makes things worse — not unlike an epidermal itch. Kellaris finds the music most likely to cause an earworm has one or more of three key qualities: repetitiveness, simplicity, and what he calls incongruity, often an unexpected rhythmic variation. One example he gives is the song “America” from West Side Story, which features a repetitive melody and shifting time signatures.

A 2003 study by Kellaris showed that nearly 98 percent of people experienced earworms, usually involving sung rather than instrumental tunes. (Una’s Vivaldi was a relative rarity, obviously indicating her superior intellect.) While women and men experienced earworms equally often, women had to put up with them for longer and were more likely to be peeved. Kellaris’s research also suggests that musicians and those inclined to worry are particularly susceptible to worm attacks.

In the early 1980s Chicago parking garage bigwig Myron Warshauer used earworms as the basis of a patented “musical theme floor reminder system,” in which a different well-known song plays in each floor’s elevator lobby. When you come back hours later and can’t remember what floor you parked on, all you have to do is pay attention to the tune that’s (theoretically) still running through your head — the song titles are listed opposite the buttons in the elevators.

Despite all this, no one really knows what causes earworms or how to get rid of them. Common removal techniques include replacing the tune with a different one, trying to distract oneself with something else, listening to the piece in question, talking to others about the earworm, or just waiting the worm out.

In an unscientific poll on the Straight Dope Message Board, more than half of 91 respondents reported experiencing earworms daily, with popular music by far the most common culprit. About half could get rid of an earworm only by putting something else in its place; 30 percent said nothing worked reliably. Another survey of 286 people found earwormants typically had heard the song three times or more just before the earworm set in and were in a “neutral to positive emotional state” but alone and bored. So avoid ennui, my friends. That’s when the earworms strike.

A final infobit: A 2005 survey found 7.5 percent of respondents were inflicted by their least favorite song as an earworm, and more than a third hated the song’s lyrics more than anything else about it. The most loathed tune? No surprise here: Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart.”

Cecil Adams


TOPICS: Health/Medicine; Humor; Music/Entertainment
KEYWORDS: napl; songs
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To: Slings and Arrows

If I even hear the opening bars to “Daydream Believer” I will run out the door. SCREAMING...

In fact, I must immediately get involved in another thread to forget this one.... or....

OH NOOOOOOOooo.........

To late....


51 posted on 10/24/2009 6:37:43 AM PDT by Ronin (Nemo me impune lacesset)
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To: Dysart

Huh, haven’t heard that one in years. Catchy, you bet.


52 posted on 10/24/2009 6:38:08 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Slings and Arrows
Perfect. I have never seen that before. It sums up Obama perfectly, even including the Soviet Union's national anthem.

I'll have to figure out how to save it and maybe play it at the next Tea Party.

Now does anyone have a version of the Chinese national anthem worshiping Oba-mao?

53 posted on 10/24/2009 6:43:00 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Soon everyone will win a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush...well, except for George Bush.)
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To: Slings and Arrows
Pretenders, “My City Was Gone”?

The annoying thing about that is when you hear it get past the initial bass line and you realize that Rush isn't coming on.

54 posted on 10/24/2009 6:47:13 AM PDT by KarlInOhio (Soon everyone will win a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush...well, except for George Bush.)
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To: armymarinemom
I know that Mambo number 5 used to play every morning on my transit to work

"Mambo No. 5" was originally a hit for Perez Prado & His Orchestra in 1950. When it was revived in 1999, I was teaching in a high school and noticed that it was especially popular among girls whose names were mentioned in the lyrics.

55 posted on 10/24/2009 6:47:27 AM PDT by Fiji Hill
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To: Slings and Arrows

I understand that Meat Loaf clears the pallet. If you get an ear-worm, but think of any Meat Loaf song, and both will be gone.

So far, I find it to be true.


56 posted on 10/24/2009 6:48:56 AM PDT by Celerity
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To: roamer_1
The only problem is... *nothing* gets the theme song to “Flipper” out of your head.

Try "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini" or "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport."

57 posted on 10/24/2009 6:55:22 AM PDT by Fiji Hill
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To: raybbr

I sympathize!


58 posted on 10/24/2009 6:55:56 AM PDT by Buddygirl
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To: Slings and Arrows
OK, I clicked on this thread with some trepidation, because I usually get something really awful stuck in my head when I read these.

I am not clicking on any links! ;-)

59 posted on 10/24/2009 6:57:14 AM PDT by Allegra (It doesn't matter what this tagline says...the liberals are going to call it "racist.")
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To: Slings and Arrows

Think cow bells.


60 posted on 10/24/2009 6:57:58 AM PDT by ThomasThomas (I don't have time to Procrastinate)
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To: Slings and Arrows
Pretenders, “My City Was Gone”?

What's funny is that I listen to First Wave on XM Radio when I'm home. When they play that song (and they do), I always think of it as the "Rush Limbaugh Song" now.

61 posted on 10/24/2009 7:00:27 AM PDT by Allegra (It doesn't matter what this tagline says...the liberals are going to call it "racist.")
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To: KarlInOhio

How to save youtube videos (and upload them elsewhere)

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1717877/posts


62 posted on 10/24/2009 7:04:53 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Allegra
I am not clicking on any links! ;-)

Curses, foiled again!

63 posted on 10/24/2009 7:05:44 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Just Molly and me, and baby makes three,
We’re happy in my Blue Heaven.


64 posted on 10/24/2009 7:06:18 AM PDT by kanawa
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To: KarlInOhio

Interestingly enough, AFAIK ultraleftist Chrissie Hynde hasn’t turned down the $$$ that Rush’s use of that song has put in her pocket.


65 posted on 10/24/2009 7:08:08 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Allegra

See post #65.


66 posted on 10/24/2009 7:09:00 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: RegulatorCountry

“If you ever see a rerun of that old Patty Duke Show coming on, run, don’t walk, to hit the mute button.”

Try to get there before they sing, “A hot dog makes her lose control...”


67 posted on 10/24/2009 7:09:17 AM PDT by mrs. a (It's a short life but a merry one...)
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To: Slings and Arrows

No she has it re-routed to an animal rights group so she doesn’t take the cash directly. It was an agreement between the two of them.


68 posted on 10/24/2009 7:09:52 AM PDT by My Favorite Headache
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To: My Favorite Headache

Then at least she’s smarter than the Wilson sisters.


69 posted on 10/24/2009 7:11:14 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Slings and Arrows
I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away

Its more than a feeling, when I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)
I begin dreaming (more than a feeling)
till I see marianne walk away
I see my marianne walkin away

70 posted on 10/24/2009 7:11:59 AM PDT by Dubh_Ghlase (Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.)
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To: mrs. a
Try to get there before they sing, “A hot dog makes her lose control...”

That's part of the lyrics??? (I've never seen the show.)

71 posted on 10/24/2009 7:12:46 AM PDT by Allegra (It doesn't matter what this tagline says...the liberals are going to call it "racist.")
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To: Allegra

Yeah,

“Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose contol...”

Didn’t think much of it when I was a kid but raised an eyebrow when I heard it as an adult.


72 posted on 10/24/2009 7:14:31 AM PDT by mrs. a (It's a short life but a merry one...)
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To: Slings and Arrows

To turn off an earworm, I select another song and hum or sing it, at least mentally, in opposition to the earworm. A minute of this usually extinguishes the little booger.


73 posted on 10/24/2009 7:37:51 AM PDT by NaughtiusMaximus (As our six year old Balloon Boy says, "I think I gotta puke.")
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To: mrs. a
Try to get there before they sing, “A hot dog makes her lose control...”

Gaaack! I never made it that far, and have been tormented by what little I did hear. That's hilarious.

THE PATTY DUKE SHOW THEME
(Sid Ramin / Bob Wells)

Meet Cathy, who's lived most everywhere,
From Zanzibar to Barclay Square.
But Patty's only seen the sights
A girl can see from Brooklyn Heights — What a crazy pair!

But they're cousins,
Identical cousins all the way.
One pair of matching bookends,
Different as night and day.

Where Cathy adores a minuet,
The Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette,
Our Patty loves to rock and roll,
A hot dog makes her lose control — What a wild duet!
Still, they're cousins,
Identical cousins and you'll find,
They laugh alike, they walk alike,
At times they even talk alike —
You can lose your mind,
When cousins are two of a kind.

"You can lose your mind?" They knew, the bahstids. It's absolutely pernicious.

74 posted on 10/24/2009 8:03:14 AM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: Slings and Arrows

I was recently stuck in Joni Mitchell hell for 3 weeks. Couldn’t get “Free man in Paris” out of my head.

The most recent song stuck in my head - “Crew Slut” by Frank Zappa. At least that song was funny.


75 posted on 10/24/2009 8:05:24 AM PDT by KosmicKitty (WARNING: Hormonally crazed woman ahead!!)
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To: BunnySlippers

My wife’s getting really pissed at me for walking around whistling the theme from “All in the Family”.......I must’ve picked it up from some TV commercial or sumpin, because I sure haven’t watched any reruns.


76 posted on 10/24/2009 8:12:50 AM PDT by ErnBatavia (Mmm mmm mmm - Barack Hussein Obama (repeat endlessly))
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To: Slings and Arrows

Hey now, (hey now)

Hey now, (hey now)

Eiko, Eiko an day

jacamo fino andanday

jacamo finanay

(No idea how to spell it, but it’s one of my earworms.)


77 posted on 10/24/2009 8:16:49 AM PDT by married21
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To: married21

Thankfully, I don’t know that one.


78 posted on 10/24/2009 8:19:37 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Featured in the movie “Rainman”, but a hit in the 60s.


79 posted on 10/24/2009 8:24:37 AM PDT by married21
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To: Slings and Arrows

Featured in the movie “Rainman”, but a hit in the 60s.


80 posted on 10/24/2009 8:27:10 AM PDT by married21
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To: netmilsmom

“Mmmmm. mmmmm. mmmmm.”

Noooooooo!!!! I had finally gotten that blasted thing out of my mind.


81 posted on 10/24/2009 8:27:21 AM PDT by Darnright (There can never be a complete confidence in a power which is excessive. - Tacitus)
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To: Slings and Arrows
o/~ In the year 2525... ~\o

You BASTARD!

This means war!

It got stuck in my head once for *four hours* in a chemistry labratory.

Cheers!

82 posted on 10/24/2009 8:36:29 AM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: roamer_1

Try this:

“It’s a small world after all...”


83 posted on 10/24/2009 8:38:42 AM PDT by 04-Bravo
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To: grey_whiskers
It got stuck in my head once for *four hours* in a chemistry labratory.

So you were the guy who cookked the brown acid!

84 posted on 10/24/2009 8:42:27 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows ("When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom." --Charles Krauthammer)
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To: Slings and Arrows
FWIW: In all seriousness.

This is a classic example of the struggle between your consciousness (soul) and your mind. The mind is like a errant child to be disciplined. It is a lifelong struggle to train it to do your bidding and not the other way around. Good luck.

85 posted on 10/24/2009 8:52:59 AM PDT by tired1 (When the Devil eats you there's only one way out.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Luckily, nowadays it’s easy to locate most songs on the internet for free. I remember in the old days, when some horrible one-hit-wonder song got stuck in my head, I’d actually have to breakdown and buy the album in order to get it out of my system.


86 posted on 10/24/2009 9:27:12 AM PDT by Welsh Rabbit
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To: BunnySlippers

Bach Cello Suite No.1 in G Major. The version I have in my mind all the time is by Yo-Yo Ma

On the other side of that coin, I will often wake at 2 or 3 am with tele-tubbbies theme, or something really sick like Yo gabba gabba Frodo Dancy dance song or some sicktwisted freakish thing like that. The H O R R O R.


87 posted on 10/24/2009 9:28:15 AM PDT by Danae (No political party should pick candidates. That's the voters job.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

LMAO!!!

Just found this thread as I’m sitting here singing “Super Freak” from some Visa commercial!

The only cure I’ve found is to replace it with another song.

Oh, wait. That’s not a cure...

;^)


88 posted on 10/24/2009 9:31:01 AM PDT by airborne (I'm from an older generation. When killing the enemy was a good thing!)
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To: Fiji Hill

Oh that is a good song. Who did that one.. I remember it from when I was living in Texas......


89 posted on 10/24/2009 9:31:16 AM PDT by Danae (No political party should pick candidates. That's the voters job.)
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To: Loud Mime
Thank God that empty suit Obama didn’t have a campaign song.

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!

Barack Hussein Obama!

90 posted on 10/24/2009 9:32:08 AM PDT by airborne (I'm from an older generation. When killing the enemy was a good thing!)
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To: RegulatorCountry
A hot dog makes her lose control

I have a filthy mind, I really do.

91 posted on 10/24/2009 9:35:12 AM PDT by andy58-in-nh (America does not need to be organized: it needs to be liberated.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Lucky me! My mind is tracking on an instrumental- Jeff Beck’s “Love Is Green” and no, it is NOT the environmentalist’s kind of green...


92 posted on 10/24/2009 9:41:46 AM PDT by equaviator ("There's a (datum) plane on the horizon coming in...see it?")
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To: andy58-in-nh
I have a filthy mind, I really do.

It's that rock & roll. And, you know what that leads to.

93 posted on 10/24/2009 9:50:44 AM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: RegulatorCountry
It's that rock & roll. And, you know what that leads to.

Oh, believe me, I do. It leads to sloppy dress, poor manners, and wanton women.

94 posted on 10/24/2009 10:14:00 AM PDT by andy58-in-nh (America does not need to be organized: it needs to be liberated.)
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To: KosmicKitty

“The most recent song stuck in my head - “Crew Slut” by Frank Zappa.”

Sure beats the hell out of the strains of “Freeee credit re-port dot com...”.


95 posted on 10/24/2009 10:22:48 AM PDT by equaviator ("There's a (datum) plane on the horizon coming in...see it?")
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To: Slings and Arrows

It’s called.....

An echo!!!

jus kiddin...


96 posted on 10/24/2009 10:24:29 AM PDT by djf (Grasshopper: The game is rigged. Patience takes forever to learn. You're so screwed!!)
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To: kanawa
When I was a kid we had the old 78 record of "My Blue Heaven", which was a big hit for Gene Austin. The record ends with " . . . nothing but blue days, from now on". There was a story that he intentionally blew the line due to having gone through a divorce. Maybe it was a legend to sell more records.

Needless to say, I don't have any problem calling up that "earworm".

97 posted on 10/24/2009 10:30:34 AM PDT by 19th LA Inf
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To: 19th LA Inf

Teresa Brewer, ‘Put Another Nickel In ...’ I was in first grade when my older brother planted that earworm in my head!


98 posted on 10/24/2009 10:34:06 AM PDT by MHGinTN (Dems, believing they cannot be deceived, it is impossible to convince them when they are deceived.)
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To: married21
Hey now, (hey now)
Hey now, (hey now)
Eiko, Eiko an day
jacamo fino andanday
jacamo finanay

"Jockomo" was probably first recorded by James "Sugar Boy" Crawford & the Cane Cutters on Chess Records in 1953. That's my favorite version of the tune.

99 posted on 10/24/2009 11:06:30 AM PDT by Fiji Hill
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To: 19th LA Inf

I don’t know about that version but I remember the Fats
Domino version.


100 posted on 10/24/2009 11:51:44 AM PDT by oldteen
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