Can't get that song out of your head? Earworm strikes again
Does anybody reading this have a song stuck in their head?
Is it a song you like or one you can't stand? Maybe, if you're a young parent, you are trying hard to ignore the "Spongebob Squarepants" theme song that is stuck on repeat in your brain. Perhaps you accidentally heard Billy Ray Cyrus twanging his way through "Achy Breaky Heart" on the radio, and now you are quietly humming that annoying yet catchy chorus while you get caught up on emails at the office. Or heaven forbid you should come across a poppy little tune right before you head to bed for the night. You might be laying there, hearing it until sunrise.
This phenomenon from which many suffer is given the name "earworm," and the title is so fitting. Those songs enter your ears and wriggle their way into your brain and infect neurons and lobes that are better suited for more productive thoughts and activities. And I should know. Every Monday morning, I walk into the newspaper office and spend the majority of the workday designing newspaper pages on a computer program. It's a very detail-oriented, deadline-driven, once-a-week activity full of the types of twists and turns that tax the brain and leave it fried by late afternoon. It is NOT the best time for your gray matter to get preoccupied with a mind-numbing tune. But more often than not, that's exactly what happens.
Any sentence uttered that includes even a portion of a song lyric or title will set me off, causing a tune to linger in the background for hours at a time. If anybody says anything about wheels on a bus, I'm screwed. If a news story includes anybody with a brother named John, I will be humming away in no time … "Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, brother John, brother John."
There is a song that appeared on the "Back to the Future" soundtrack back in the '80s by Huey Lewis and the News. Not "Power of Love" but the other one, "Back in Time" â€“ which also happens to be the name of our recurring newspaper archive column. Needless to say, that song makes an appearance in my brain almost every week.
Not every instance of earworm is a bad thing â€“ at least to begin with. Some songs that get stuck are more tolerable than others. Sometimes they are even songs that I like. But let's face it, even your favorite tune would get mighty old if you heard it on the radio 500 times in a row.
The British Journal of General Practice reports that psychologically speaking, earworm is a "cognitive itch" â€“ something the brain automatically itches back, resulting in a vicious loop. And the more we try to suppress the song, the more its impetus increases, a mental process known as ironic process theory.
Wonderful … I think I would rather develop an "itch" from an actual worm in my ear. At least I would have a better chance of extracting the source of the problem.
But if what the British Journal of General Practice says is true â€“ and with a name that fancy-sounding, I suspect it is â€“ I should probably learn not to fight earworm. Maybe it's time for us all to embrace it. If that sing-songy nursery rhyme jingle is stuck on an endless loop, take the next step and sing it out loud â€“ really loud. So what if you don't have one of those million-dollar voices? At least you are getting your suffering out in the open … where other unfortunate bystanders can hear it and get it stuck in their heads too.
Could that be the real reason that people in musicals inexplicably burst into song every few minutes or so? They could just SAY what's on their mind, but nope, they choose to sing it. Maybe, they're just getting that annoying earworm out in the open, hoping it will help it go away.
Who knows? It might all be in vain. Getting songs out of our heads might be an exercise in futility. Earworm might be inevitable. But if it is, you might as well get acquainted with some of the top earworm songs of all time, courtesy of my haphazard internet searches. The list includes "We Will Rock You," by Queen, "Jingle Bells," Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believing" and of course, the Village People hit, "YMCA."
They're catchy songs, aren't they? Great melodies. I bet you can remember the words to a lot of them ………. You're welcome.
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