Date: Sun 02 Mar 2003 - 22:53:44 GMT
Song Stuck in Your Head? You're Not Alone
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The vast majority of people say they
have been mentally tortured at one point in their lives by a song that
keeps repeating itself over and over in their heads.
And new research shows that people most frequently plagued by this
phenomenon are those with slightly neurotic tendencies, and people
who enjoy and listen to music often.
These mental broken records are also more likely to play the first or last
song we hear in different situations, such as the first song that comes
on in the morning alarm, or the last song playing before we turn off the
car, study findings show.
Songs that topped the list as being most likely to stick around in
someone's head included the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
and the Chili's restaurant jingle about Baby Back Ribs.
But the number one song rated most likely to cause this phenomenon,
referred to as an "earworm" in Germany, is "other"--indicating that many
different songs can become stuck in our heads.
"Just about anything can get stuck in people's heads," study author Dr.
James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati told Reuters Health.
"We each have our personal demonic tunes that get stuck in our heads,
I guess," he added.
Kellaris presented results from his current study on Saturday at the
Society for Consumer Psychology Winter Conference in New Orleans.
Kellaris's previous research into the phenomenon of earworms revealed
that "sticky" songs are those that are relatively simple, repetitive, and
contain an element that surprises the listener. This incongruous
element can be an interrupted pattern, or something that violates
expectations of what comes next.
During the current study, Kellaris distributed surveys to 559 people
aged 18 to 49 asking them about their personalities, how often tunes
got stuck in their heads, how long the episodes lasted, and when the
phenomenon was most likely to happen.
Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they had experienced stuck
songs. Most said the episodes occurred "frequently," and lasted an
average of a few hours.
Songs with lyrics were most often the culprits, a trend that Kellaris said
is not surprising. Often what gets sticky is not just a tune, but also lyrics,
a trend he calls "stupid lyrics syndrome." Combining a tune and lyrics
ups the chance of song snippets staying with the listener for hours, he
Episodes of earworms also tend to strike people with neurotic
tendencies more often. These people are not seriously neurotic,
Kellaris said, but may simply be more prone to worrying and anxiety,
and may have neurotic habits like biting pencils or tapping fingernails.
Women were more likely than men to report feeling annoyed, frustrated,
or irritated about having songs stuck in their heads--a trend Kellaris
said he is hard pressed to explain.
In terms of how to protect yourself from earworms, Kellaris
recommended that people not worry about a stuck song as soon as it
appears, and perhaps avoid listening to music for a spell if it becomes
Strategies people report using to rid themselves of stuck tunes involved
trying to listen to something else, distracting themselves with another
activity, and trying to erase the repetition of one song snippet by
singing the song all the way through.
"If they can't remember the lyrics, sometimes it helps for them to sing
through the entire song, and then it will go away," Kellaris said.
Kellaris said he has also heard a "folkloric" recommendation of chewing
on cinnamon sticks to rid the brain of a sticky song.
"Some people swear that will unstick a stuck tune," he said.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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