Can't Get a Certain Song Out of Your Head? Here’s What Makes It an Earworm

Can't Get a Certain Song Out of Your Head? Here’s What Makes It an Earworm

2021-04-07 16:55:00
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It's a jingle from a radio ad, or maybe the theme song from an old sitcom, or maybe it's a bit of a tune that you haven't heard since high school (and didn't like that much even then). But one thing is for sure: if it doesn't stop playing in your head in an endless loop, you're going to bang your head against the wall.

Yes. You have an earwig.

Earwigs are as common as they are annoying. Most everyone gets them, and some poor souls have them several times a week. Scientists call them "involuntary musical images" or sometimes 'intrusive musical images'. The English word earwig is a literal translation of the German word OhrwurmNo wonder English speakers have adopted the phrase. It makes perfect sense: the tune enters your brain through your ears – and refuses to leave. Usually it's just a little tune, a short passage of a song that repeats over and over … like a needle stuck to a scratch in an old vinyl record.

Not everyone hates them. According to a recent article When reviewing the earwigs research, some people say they really enjoy their earwigs. But the charm quickly fades. And a really tacky tune can drive you up against a wall, even if it was a song you once liked.

I can't get you out of my head

It was not until the 1980s that scientists began to seriously study the phenomenon. They still have not found out what the cause is, but in 2016 an international team of researchers asked 3,000 people about their earwigs. They looked at the numbers themselves in an attempt to determine what was likely to cause a song to crash on repeat. It turns out that if it is hoped to have an afterlife as an earwig, a song must have a happy, easy-to-remember melody. It also helps if there are some unique intervals or repeats (think "who let the dogs out" or "oops, there goes another") that set it apart from the average pop song. Advertising jingles are especially good at this (cue "break me off that Kit-Kat bar"). Most of the melodies listed in the study have lyrics, but not all of them. Only the drum track from "My SharonaOr the opening sizes of Beethoven's 5th can do the trick.


Read more: Where does music come from? Here are the guiding theories


But some do better than others. The top nine songs fingered as earwigs by 3,000 participants in the 2016 survey were:

1) "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga

2) "Can & # 39; t Get You Out of My Head" by Kylie Minogue (there is certainly some irony)

3) "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey

4) "Someone I Used to Know" by Gotye

5) "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5

6) "California Gurls" by Katy Perry

7) "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen

8) "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga

9) "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga

(That's three out of nine for Lady Gaga – is she to attempt to drive us crazy?)

Of course, people from different cultures or age groups will have different earwigs, and what sticks to you may not stick to someone else. If you've rarely listened to, say, "Don't stop believing," then it probably won't get into your head when you hear it through the supermarket speakers. On the other hand, it can, so be careful where you shop.

The remedy for earwigs

If this article gave you an earwig, you may be wondering how to get rid of that damn thing (especially if it was 'Don't Stop Believing' that got you hooked). There are a few strategies that sometimes seem to work for some people. a study loved that listening to one heal tune could help. For instance, "Kashmir& # 39; By Led Zeppelin banned an earwig for some of the study participants. (The participants did not report whether they had to live with the repetitive opening riff of & # 39; Kashmir & # 39; for days after that, as I may have to after writing that sentence.)

Susana Martinez-Conde, a neuroscientist at the State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center, has conducted research that suggests our brains are incapable of multitasking. This can be a problem if you're trying to catch up on emails while attending a Zoom meeting, but it can work in your favor when it comes to earwigs. "When we turn our attention to an interesting object or activity, our neural circuits automatically work to suppress everything else that is unrelated," she explains. Martinez-Conde recommends focusing on "something that involves words, such as memorizing and reciting poetry, practicing tongue twisters, solving word puzzles, or just talking to other people".

Don't let the people you're talking to start messing around "ga-ga-ohh-la-la, ”And you should be okay.


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