Ever had a tune stuck in your ear for such a long time that it felt like auditory pain? The same beat thrashing against your mind, again and again and again, ad nauseum. You would be lucky that catchy song went away for a while, a day maybe, two whole blissful weeks! Smug with relief, you turn on the radio and Here it goes, Here It Goes, HERE IT GOES AGAIN. . .
Earworms – Catchy Songs
Well, uh. . . where was I. . . yeah. . . turns out this catchy little jingle of a neuronal misfire has a name and its ‘Earworms’. The Germans, in a habit of appropriating everything painful to themselves first, came up with the whole concept of ‘earrwurms’ from which we get the name.
Here it goes, here it goes again. . .
Songs with repetitive motifs, and a certain melody structure (Achy Breaky Heart it seems, is notorious across the board for this) get stuck with remarkable ease in a hapless few, who then have to hum it out from the toilet to the super-mart. A few others in this notorious list include:
- Maroon 5 – “Moves Like Jagger”
- Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
- Aqua – “Barbie Girl”
- Vengaboys – “We Like to Party”
- Black Sabbath – “Paranoid”
Maybe it’s our surroundings which play such havoc on our delicate hearing patterns. We are constantly surrounded with such a blitz of viral videos, local radio shows, iPods and advertisements that we tend to get adjusted to most tunes but just can’t block out the few which tend to repeat. Every other song from today’s Autotuned popstars sounds the same and lyrical patterns, structure and even complex melodies, can be generated by simple programs, designed to get more and more catchy.
James Kellaris a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati or as he likes to call himself “Dr. Earworm” has a believable theory along those lines which he calls the “cognitive itch”. Having studied this phenomenon for years, (he must have his own horror story), Kellaris believes that certain musical pieces excite the brain in an abnormal way. The brain in its frenzy to understand that piece will play it over and over, like a bad rash.
Songs likely to get stuck in the space between your ears, according to Kellaris tend to be repetitive, mind numbingly simple and feature sudden changes in rhyme, which sounds like the description for every pop song ever made. Also, it’s the part which are sung that tend to remain stuck in your mind, more often, though instrumental sections are also common (like the whole start of Powerless).
However you would be pleased to know that earworms sufferers are not alone. In a 2003 study, Dr. Kellaris found almost 98% of people in his survey had suffered from it previously, women being more prone to the unlucky aural critter than men. People who worry a lot and musicians are also regularly harassed.
Unfortunately, prying your mind loose of a stray catchy beat is much, much harder than getting it in the first place. Listening to other more irritating songs sometimes helps me out at the chance of catching a different earworm:
Other methods include pounding your head against the wall with the tempo, puncturing your ears with screwdrivers, tearing chunks of hair out, engaging in some other mind numbing activity like writing the lyrics out in reverse in hopes of getting some evidence of demon activity or just waiting for the tune to wear itself out.
So have you got your own personal earworm? Is it still there? Are you still alive? Congratulations! What did you do to get rid of it? Write it out in the comments section. Now excuse me while I go, hammer a treadmill to pieces.