Earworms burrow into your head
Release Date 04 December 2009
If you suffer from those annoying catchy tunes that repeat in your head – you are not alone. Research from psychologists at the University of Reading has shown that these earworms are relatively widespread and for some can be intrusive and persistent.
Findings published this week showed that virtually any song can become an earworm, although they were often pop music. More than 100 people were asked if they experienced earworms, for how long and the types of tunes heard. There was very little repetition in the list, although some artists were mentioned more than once: Pink Floyd, Justin Timberlake and Guns ‘n’ Roses.
Dr Philip Beaman and Dr Tim Williams, of the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, undertook the studies to see what makes an idea or thought pop into someone’s head spontaneously and, once lodged, how to get rid if of it before it becomes irritating.
“We chose music, and earworms in particular, as there has been very little research in this area and yet almost everyone experiences them,” said Dr Beaman. “Simple, repetitive tunes are more likely to get stuck in your head, although there was a lot of variation in the songs people recorded as having this effect.”
People who described music as being important to them were more likely to experience earworms and for longer periods of time. They also reported them as being more intrusive. An earworm episode can last from just a few minutes to a couple of days, although the average during the study found to be 27 minutes.
So how do you stop the tune from playing around in your head? The advice is: do nothing. “It seems that the more people try to get rid of an earworm, the more persistent it can become,” said Dr Beaman. “If you try not to think about it, it will go away more quickly.”
Dr Beaman and Dr Williams plan to extend this research to see if professional musicians experience more earworms and if people who experience earworms less often also have less difficulty with other unwanted and intrusive thoughts. Examples would be worrying if you’ve left the lights on or thinking about food while on a diet.
For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman on 0118 378 7388, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editor
Dr Phil Beaman is available for interview. Please call the press office number above to arrange.
The paper has been published online:
C. Philip Beaman and Tim I. Williams, 2009, Earworms (‘stuck song syndrome’): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British Journal of Psychology.
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