Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Earworms


I have had the song Thursday's Child by David Bowie stuck in my head for days now. What is it that causes this phenomenon? The BBC has researched it, and concluded the following causes:

Exposure. You can't get it stuck in your head if you've not heard it, and having heard it recently makes it more likely to wedge its way in.

Memory triggers. Something in your environment reminds you of the song; maybe a phrase that's similar to some of the lyrics, or maybe an experience that connects to an occasion when you'd listened to or thought of the song. Stressful experiences especially make strong connections (like the story of the mountain climber who was lost and starving in the wilderness and couldn't get Boney M's Brown Girl in the Ring out of his head.)

He says the main question people ask him about earworms is: "How do we turn them off?"

Levitin offers a piece of advice. "Just think of another song and hope that'll push out the first one."

Dr Vicky Williamson is currently trying to find the best "cures" for earworms. She says the structure of one tune may have a bearing on whether it's useful in displacing another.

She's also looking at whether everyday strategies help, like going for a run or doing a crossword.

Both Levitin and Williamson agree that getting an unwanted tune out of your head is a relief. But of course the song that cures you might just end up being the next one that gets stuck.


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