What are “Earworms”?
Just so we’re clear … earworms are those songs, jingles, and tunes that get stuck in your head. You know the ones – the pop song played on the radio from morning ‘til night; the jingle from a TV commercial you’ve seen a hundred times; or the music played during the boat ride at a famous Florida amusement park. Most people have earworms, and no matter what we do, they just won’t go away!
I’ve had one song stuck in my head for years – Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Blue Christmas”. My apologies to Elvis, but I absolutely hate that song! Sometimes I forget about it during the summer months (my earworms must be hibernating then), but with Christmas just around the corner, I can feel the earworms waking up and planning their “Blue Christmas” attack!
Why “Earworms” Keep Happening
A survey of college students, administered by marketing professor James Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati, found that nearly 98% of people have had songs stuck in their head. “Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%), and instrumental tunes without words (11%),” Kellaris concluded.
It seems these musical worms enter our ears and burrow straight into our brains. The reason tends to involve the human brain’s love of patterns, and its compulsion to fill in musical blanks.
Researchers say that the music most likely to get lodged in the brain has a simple, catchy and repeating tune and/or lyrics, and has been heard frequently on radio or TV. The brain seems to dip into its repeating repertoire most often when we’re tired or anxious. Note to self – Don’t get tired or anxious during the holidays!
A Dartmouth University study also said that earworms annoyed, frustrated, and irritated women significantly more than men, and they were more frequent, and lasted longer, for musicians and music lovers.
How to Get Rid of Earworms
So how do we rid ourselves of these pesky earworms? Unfortunately, Professor Kellaris doesn’t know, but he did find that when people battle their earworms, nearly two-thirds of the time they try to use another tune to dislodge the one that’s stuck. They also tried to distract themselves with other attention-grabbing activities, like chewing gum, or even tried to complete the song in their heads in an effort to get it to the end.
Ugghhh … Great advice, but I wonder how long I’ll have to suffer until a “Blue Christmas” anti-earworm medication makes it to my local drugstore shelf?