An annoying trick of the creative mind
If you are unfamiliar with the term “earworm” I can just about guarantee that you have had one before. It’s a nasty term for a nasty situation. When the “Farmer’s Only” jingle first appeared across the nation, singing the delightfully annoying tune in hopes that farmers could use the service and find their fated loves — I thought I’d lose my ever-living mind with that earworm.
Definition of Earworm
Although the term earworm refers specifically to music, I’d broaden the term to include phrases or rhymes that repeat. Sometimes for me, it is a phrase that comes to me for a poem, but one that sucks and I’d never use — but it plays on repeat until Train’s “Meet Virginia” starts all over again.
Involuntary musical imagery (INMI or “earworms”) — the spontaneous recall and repeating of a tune in one’s mind — can be attributed to a wide range of triggers, including memory associations and recent musical exposure. — Kelly Jakubowski, Dissecting an Earworm
Here’s a fun list of 100 popular earworms!
So who gets these INMI/earworms maybe more than other people? I mean, we all get them right? But there must be some criteria for why I get them nearly every day and others get them only occasionally. Science Focus tackled this question and here are some factors they mention as being important.
Earworm Frequency Factors (from Science Focus)
- the more important a person considers music, the more likely they are to experience earworms (This explains why I have poetic phrases rambling through my thoughts on repeat.)
- people high in the trait of open-mindedness are more prone to earworms The site also pointed out that this is understandable given that this trait correlates with time spent listening to music. (I must be the most open-minded person on the planet.)
- Another study found that people with less mental control were no more likely to experience earworms, although they did find them more disruptive and harder to stop. (This is a relief — I think.)
Another article I read on EcoJazz website was very interesting but I am not sure I am ready to call all the information “reliable” without seeing some sources. The article I read entitled “Earworms: The Science of and the Statistics Behind Getting a Song Stuck in Your Head” by Amanda McCauley suggests that women are more likely to get earworms. Here is a quote from the article which addresses a lot of the questions I have on this subject:
First off, studies show that 98% of individuals experience or have experienced getting songs stuck in their heads. Are you a female? If so, you are more likely to have earworms more often. This is because male and female brains differ in many ways, and female brains make more connections than male brains and are also have more obsessive traits than males. Ladies, you are more likely to associate a song with someone or something and then are more likely to dwell upon that subject/song. Those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are also more likely to develop an earworm easier than those who do not have OCD. Another thing to consider is whether or not you’re a musician. If you play an instrument regularly, study music, or play at shows, you are more susceptible to getting an earworm.
Personally, I am not a musician. I did study choral music and I like a variety of music but typically only listen to music in the car. I seem to be very vulnerable to jingles on TV commercials. Sometimes there are no words to the tune that gets stuck in my head…or it can be a song I haven’t heard in years. Also, I do have OCD but have not been diagnosed with depression. I have PTSD and anxiety related to that condition.
Link between earworm and psychological disorders
Dr Joseph M Carver, PhD discusses with a patient the links between earworm and depression symptoms and OCD but makes no mention of the frequency based on sex or brain development. You can read the story of one tortured person and Carver’s advice to them Here.
So where do artists, poets, writers fit in? It is fairly common knowledge that writers are more prone to depression so possibly this is a factor for the frequency of earworms.
How to get rid of an earworm
USA Today offers some great tips on how to get rid of an earworm:
- Chew some gum
- Listen to the song
- Listen to another song, chat or listen to talk radio
- Do a puzzle
- Let it go but don't try. Not fighting an earworm may be the best way to get rid of one.
For more reading / Health & Wellness articles: