Skip to comments.Why do songs get stuck in your head?
Posted on 10/24/2009 4:34:36 AM PDT by Slings and Arrows
October 16, 2009
Whats the deal with getting a song stuck in your head? Why does it happen, especially if its a song you dont like or dont even know well? Yet all you can think about is that stupid tune. Please enlighten me; Im getting really sick of Tainted Love running circles through my brain.
You think youve 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 dont 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. Theyre the most common type of whats 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 arent on drugs or suffering from schizophrenia and thus (b) are fully aware theres 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 whos 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. (Unas 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. Kellariss 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 floors elevator lobby. When you come back hours later and cant remember what floor you parked on, all you have to do is pay attention to the tune thats (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. Thats 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 songs lyrics more than anything else about it. The most loathed tune? No surprise here: Billy Ray Cyruss Achy Breaky Heart.
“Mmmmm. mmmmm. mmmmm.”
Noooooooo!!!! I had finally gotten that blasted thing out of my mind.
This means war!
It got stuck in my head once for *four hours* in a chemistry labratory.
“It’s a small world after all...”
So you were the guy who cookked the brown acid!
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.
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.
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.
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...
Oh that is a good song. Who did that one.. I remember it from when I was living in Texas......
Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!
Barack Hussein Obama!
I have a filthy mind, I really do.
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...
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.
“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...”.
Needless to say, I don't have any problem calling up that "earworm".
Teresa Brewer, ‘Put Another Nickel In ...’ I was in first grade when my older brother planted that earworm in my head!
"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.
I don’t know about that version but I remember the Fats
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