I’m sure you’ve all experienced the annoyingness of that one song being stuck in your head, going around on a constant loop. What you may not have been aware of is the fact that these catchy but relentless tunes are referred to as “earworms” and play in a loop for as many as 98% of people in the western world. For over 65% of these people, ‘earworms’ are neutral to positive, just a simple but irritating song. But for the rest, they are nothing more than annoying sounds that get stuck in their brain and disrupt their calm within.

Songs that are more likely to become ‘earworms’ are those who tend to be faster yet with a simpler melody. The music also had some kind of uniqueness to it that made it stand out. Some examples of these songs are Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” and Lada Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

Earworms use specific brain networks with which to associate with certain songs. These networks are involved in our spontaneous thought processes, our perception, emotions, and memory. When certain songs are heard, these networks are triggered and can induce a whole range of feelings (good and bad). Those with a musical background also tend to be more susceptible than others to earworms, as do those with certain personality traits such as neuroticism, or openness to new things. Every time music repeats itself, you hear something different in it, so ‘earworms’ aren’t all bad.

Learning in this way is a form of spontaneous mental activity that encourages creativity.  However, you should be aware that sometimes these stuck songs can be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorders, a rare form of epilepsy, or a condition called palinacousis, where you continue to hear a noise long after it’s stopped. Any earworms that last more than 24 hours should be checked out as could be down to various illnesses include cancer or stroke.

The best way to get rid of earworms is to accept them. Trying to block them out will only cause you more grief. Some people do suggest trying to distract themselves from the earworm by playing a different tune. Others believe that listening to the actual earworm song will help as they feel we only have songs on the loop that we don’t remember fully.  Listening to the whole song may extinguish the loop. Chewing gum is also said to help as the chewing disrupts how you hear the song in your head.

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