Day 16 – UBC – Is There a Cure for Earworms?

Earworms! Yuk!! What is it about a song that can make it go in one ear, and not come out the other? Where does it get stuck, and why? And who thought up the name – Earworms!?

Those songs that get trapped inside your head and keep on playing, long after you’ve turned off the radio, are called Earworms.

Wikipedia describes earworms as:

An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, stuck song syndrome, or Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI) is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing. … The word earworm is possibly a calque from the German Ohrwurm.

The problem is, most of the time I don’t even like the song. And it doesn’t have to start with actually hearing the song; it could be that someone mentions the name of a song, or says a word that triggers the mechanism in my brain that turns the mental-music on. Regardless of how it starts, trying to stop it is futile.

Who Let the Dogs Out? has named twenty-one songs that are guaranteed to get stuck in your head. Well, I hadn’t even heard of some of those songs, so I doubt they are going to get stuck between my ears. There is one, however, that is sure to be an earworm. Say the words “Who Let the Dogs Out?”?

Now try getting THAT song to stop playing in your head. Pretty tough, hey?

Researchers have put time and money into investigating how earworms get inside your head, and why they can be hard to eradicate, once they’re tucked up, nice and snug, between your ears. Apparently, over 90% of the population suffer from earworms. That means there is a lucky 1-9% of the population enjoying an earworm free existence (how do they do that?).

Stickability of a song is dependent on things like: popularity; melodic variation; and of course, the obvious – how much time you spend listening to music.

What’s in a Name?

According to Merriam-Webster, the name, Earworm, comes from the German word, Ohrwurm. That sounds feasible. And it seems that earworms are contagious. Apparently, if you wake up in the morning with an earworm in your head, and then go about your day giving voice to the song that is haunting you, you will pass the dreaded worm on to others. I wonder if, sometime in the future, there will be a vaccine to prevent earworms? It seems there is a vaccine for everything else – why not earworms?

So, what is the cure for earworms?

Dr Kelly Jakubowski (Durham University) has spent a lot of research hours trying to figure out the how and why of earworms.

According to Durham University, and based on Dr Jakubowski’s research, there are a few things you can do to eradicate earworms. The University suggests:

  • distraction – by thinking of another song: I can see the danger in this one. In my case, the replacement song will simply kick the original earworm out and elect itself as King Earworm. Durham University actually cites ‘God Save the Queen’ as a safe replacement. I have to admit, I haven’t tried this, but I think it has merit.
  • engaging with the song – sing along with it; listen to it; whatever it takes to get up-close-and-personal with the earworm that has taken up residence in your head. I’m not sure how this works, but who am I to question the research?
  • leaving it alone – not engaging with it – thinking of something else. My guess is the earworm will feel very lonely and go off in search of someone else’s head to live in – someone who might at least pay them some attention.

It seems that for most of us, earworms are inevitable, so I hope the information I have shared with you today makes them a little easier to live with.

Have an earworm-free day!, or, if you have to have them, may they be songs you love – or at least like!

What’s Your Earworm?

What songs get stuck in your head?

Are your earworms – songs that you like – or not?

How do you get rid of those annoying earworms that just won’t shut up!?

Share your thoughts in the Comments box below

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Posted by Maureen

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Michael T George

Great blog. A wonderful exploration of a topic that I had never seen addressed before. The Earworm.
My earworms are almost always songs that I like. I try to get rid of them consciously expelling them from my mind. My most common earworms are “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees and “Everything Old is New Again” by and sung by Peter Allen. Right now it is “Arise, Ye Russian People” from the “Cantata Alexander Nevsky” by Sergei Prokoviev. Can’t get it out of my mind.

Thank you, Michael. Good luck with your earworms…

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