Erasing the earworms

By Mina Radman • Published: August 13th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You don’t want it to happen, but it does. Against your will, the song begins to play in your head: a verse and the chorus. You shake your head, trying to stop the music playing within, but you can’t. You’ve been infected by an earworm.

An earworm isn’t an actual worm, of course, but a song that won’t stop playing in your head. The word is a literal translation of ohrwurm (OR-worm), a term used to describe this particular phenomenon.

More than 90 percent of people get a song stuck in their head at least once a week — in fact, you’re probably harboring an earworm right now. Researchers are fascinated by earworms, which have become the topic of numerous scientific studies and journals in the past five years. The research suggests psychological reasons for why some songs stick better than others: emotional stress, memories and boredom.

Researchers say the simpler the song, the easier it is to catch an earworm. That’s why we keep singing commercial jingles or songs from children’s shows … and the reason why we recall songs from our childhoods, even if we don’t remember what show or film the song originates from.

There’s no master earworm — everyone is affected differently by songs and what becomes an earworm for one person may not bother another. Interestingly, women are more likely to be affected by earworms than men.

So how do you rid yourself of an earworm? Researchers don’t have a scientific cure for earworms, but they do offer some advice. Stop acknowledging it. Attempting to consciously stop the music may make it worse, as will trying to sing a different song or finish the song in your head. Distract yourself with other tasks and you’ll soon find that the music has come to an end.

At least until the next time.