Music that is simple, repetitive, and easy to sing (or hum) is most likely to get stuck. Think Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers,” Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Kylie Minogue’s hit “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”. Even the theme song from “Rocky” can break in. Nursery rhymes and songs suitable for children are also strong whisper contenders. Their structure is catchy and repetitive, which makes them easy to remember. If “Itsy Bitsy Spider” creeps into your head, now you know why.
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It turns out that certain emotional states, such as when we’re tired or overworked, can trigger earworms. (In a Goldilocks dilemma, if you’re stressed out or not stressed enough, you may be more vulnerable—in other words, bored.) Maybe that’s why I often struggled with earworms when my three sons were young. fight. The combination of simple music and sleep deprivation creates a fertile breeding ground for obnoxious music.
“We get caught up in the satirical process. Not thinking about something requires remembering what we shouldn’t be thinking about,” said James Kellaris, a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati, also known as “The Dr. Earworm”. “Mind experiment: Try not to think ‘who let the dog out’.” Good luck!
Earworms are essentially a form of rumination, and studies have shown that people with anxiety, PTSD, and OCD are more prone to earworms. “Their brains are wired to reflect, reflect, and reflect,” Arthur said. There is even a small percentage of people who get earworms from taking steroids. Known as intrusive musical imagery (IMI), these musical obsessions can last for months or even years, wreaking havoc on a person’s life and work.
(Note: If you struggle with earworms for more than 24 hours and it interferes with your work or life, please consult your healthcare provider. There are other rare conditions that may play a role here, and they are treatable! )
How to Get Rid of Earworms
Most people don’t pay much attention to the occasional catchy tune playing in their head on loop. But sadly, earworms don’t differentiate between music you like and music you hate. They don’t care if you’re happy and you know it (although they might care if you clap your hands as a distraction tactic).
If earworms are pestering you, scientists think the following strategies may help get rid of them:
- finish song. When you only know part of a song, that part gets stuck. Once you listen to the entire song from start to finish, your brain gets the message that it’s done, so there’s no need to repeat it. Don’t have time to play the song in its entirety? Draw applause. This is the trick Arthur uses to signal to her brain that the song is over. “I imagine I’m at a concert and I hear the audience clapping and cheering in my head,” she said.
- distract yourself. It turns out that watching memes is an expert-approved strategy when you’re trying to get rid of earworms. A distraction, or coming up with a competing task, sound, or image—something that grabs your attention—can help get rid of INMI. “Even chewing gum disrupts the phonological loops necessary for song imagination,” said Elizabeth Margulis, a professor and director of the Music Cognition Laboratory at Princeton University.
- Diversify your playlist. If you create a playlist of songs of varying tempos and beats, your brain may be less likely to latch on to a particular tune. “When you broaden your horizons and learn about different types of music, your brain has a wider repertoire to draw from,” Schubert said. critical moment? Listen to Earworm Eraser, a 42-second track designed to disrupt the neural patterns locked into catchy songs. “There’s no rhythm, there’s no melody, it just takes up space in your vocal loop,” Arthur said.
- mix up the lyrics. The artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT has gotten a lot of criticism for potentially putting writers out of work, but if you have earworms, it could offer an antidote. Try this: Tell ChatGPT, “You’re weird Al Yankovic, make these lyrics funny and about Star Wars.” Want an AI-free solution? Try to strategically substitute words in the song, so replace the word “Caroline” in “Sweet Caroline” with another three-syllable word. Let’s say “build”. Now try to sing.
While you might want to try suppressing earworms, Kailaris warns against doing so. They are like a cognitive itch. Scratching them (or in this case, focusing on how to eliminate them) just makes the episode last longer.Instead, when pesky earworms Do Get stuck in your head and try to remember “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you’ll get what you need.”