Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A brief introduction to Earworms

What is it that makes some songs stick in your head and other not. Scientists call songs that get stuck in our head “earworms,” after the German, Ohrwurm (ear-worm). According to neuroscientists no-one is quite sure how and why this happens. It is often not to be a whole song that gets stuck in the head, just 15-20 seconds of one, and it tends to be a simple song that even non-singers can hum without effort. Earworms can also be jingles, and tunes. Songs with lyrics are reported as most frequently stuck (74%), followed by commercial jingles (15%) and instrumental tunes without words (11%). Almost everyone seems susceptible to them, but with some more than others. On average, the episodes last over a few hours and occur 'frequently' or 'very frequently' among 61.5% of the sample. Some people can get earworms so bad that it interferes with their ability to sleep or work. Others use their earworms as an impetuous to write music. Neil Young, for example, started writing songs because he could not get rid of the tunes in his head. Earworms are more likely to last longer for women and to irritate them significantly more than men. The length of earworm attack is reported longer for musicians and music lovers. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more prone to report being troubled by ear worms.

The technical name for ‘earthworms’ is Musical Imagery Repetition (MIR) or involuntary musical imagery (IMI) but should not be confused with endomusia (or musical hallucinations), a serious condition where people hear music that is not playing externally.

There is no known cure but many try to use another tune to dislodge the one that is stuck. People with songs stuck in their heads often try talking with someone about it. And about half the survey deliberately try to distract themselves from hearing the stuck song. And 14% of the time, people try to complete the song in their heads in an effort to get it to end. Almost 25% of people polled complained earworm episodes stopped them from doing other tasks and 14%felt it wasted their time.
Researchers at Goldsmiths College, (University of London), believe while earthworms remain a mystery to psychologists, getting to understand them may help to unravel how the human brain works. They discovered spontaneous musical imagery comes without any conscious effort and the catchiness of something is the result of a particular balance of certain pitch intervals and particular rhythmic structures. They have developed a formula which can currently predict whether a tune is likely to be an earworm with approximately 75 percent success.

Researchers from the University of Reading found that when respondents attempted to distract themselves from the earworms, they lasted an average of 40 minutes. But, when respondents did nothing about the earworm, the experience lasted for an average of 22 minutes. Previous research has suggested that earworm experiences are limited by the capacity of auditory memory but current research would contest this and believe when earworms involve more than auditory memory, such as ] reactivation of long-term memory, then this allows for memories of a longer duration.


Interesting sites
How to write an earworm
the earwormery

James J. Kellaris J.J 2003 "Dissecting Earworms: Further Evidence on the 'Song-Stuck-in-Your Head' Phenomenon, presentation to Society for Consumer Psychology, Feb. 22, 2003.

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