Can’t Shake that Song? The Science Behind Annoying Those Earworms

July 20, 2023 11:47 am in by

Let’s face it. We’ve all been there. You’re going about your day, minding your own business, and suddenly boomMoves like Jagger by Maroon 5 is playing on loop in your mind like a runaway jukebox. It’s an earworm, an annoying little jingle refusing to leave your brain.

The Persistent Guests

The first question is, why does this even happen? Scientists haven’t pinned down the exact reason yet, but we can find a common thread in the tapestry of earworms. Boredom, recency, and familiarity are like party invitations your brain can’t seem to ignore.

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Emery Schubert, an ace researcher from the University of New South Wales, explains it as an unintended stumble upon a ‘recently repeated tune’ when the mind is out for a casual stroll. Songwriters weaponise this habit by encoding their tracks with catchy, repetitive patterns.

Kylie Minogue’s newest single, Padam Padam, has caused a major stir on social media for this very reason. The word ‘Padam’ believed to mimick the sound of the human heartbeat and if it’s not stuck in your head already, this TikTok user is making sure it is.

@ajcullen0 Padam Padam 🫀if it wasn’t stuck in your head already, then here’s your chance 👀 #padampadam #kylieminogue #padam #kylie #minogue #kylieminoguefan #kylieminoguesong #CapitalSTB #SummertimeBall #Wembley #WembleyStadium #London ♬ original sound – AJCGigTok

Pop Patterns and Problematic Repeats

Songs that are shorter, have simple melodies with ascending and descending pitch patterns seem to get stuck the most. Think pop songs such as Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus and Pharrell Williams’ Happy. Earworms don’t discriminate, but some people might be more susceptible. Those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tend to experience earworms not as mere background hum but as intrusive echoes, mirroring the nature of OCD thoughts.

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Banishing the Unwanted Tunes

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to boot these musical squatters. Harvard Health Publishing, however, does suggest a few strategies. Ironically, trying to forget the tune can make the problem more persistent. But a musical palate cleanser like God Save The Queen or Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon might help.

Alternately, listening to the entire earworm-invoking song can sometimes dislodge it from its comfortable perch. If all else fails, chew some gum! It can help disrupt the mental replay.


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