We all have that one song that we just can’t get out of our mind. We hear it once, and dang, it gets stuck in our head, and we start humming it or singing it all the time in spite of ourselves. Why? Science now has an answer to this mystery. The study documenting the possible reasons behind this phenomenon is published in the latest edition of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.
Earworms in our minds
These songs that stick to our heads are known as earworms—quite apt of a name, right? The new study is the very first large-sample research investigating into earworms.
Characteristics of catchy songs
According to the team of scientists who set out to solve the mystery, these songs will usually be faster than others. They are characterised by a melody that is relatively easy to remember, and they are punctuated by uncommon patterns like leaps or repetitions that differentiate them from your average song.
Why Kylie Minogue Sings “Can’t Get You Out of My Head“
The researchers found that songs like Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” (well, this is a well-thought song title!) and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” are of the most common earworms.
“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke On The Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,'” said lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, from Durham University.
Given that the researchers uncovered a certain commonality among these songs in terms of their unusual melody, earworms can be predicted.
“Our findings show that you can, to some extent, predict which songs are going to get stuck in people’s heads based on the song’s melodic content. This could help aspiring song-writers or advertisers write a jingle everyone will remember for days or months afterwards,” said Jakubowski.
Why Children Memorise “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star“
Earworms were more likely to be those with greater overall melodic contours featuring in recurrent fashion in Western pop music. Contour patterns that are most famous include “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, whose first phrase has a higher pitch with a lower one for the second line. You will find many more nursery rhymes with a similar pattern; this is why it will be generally easy for children to commit the songs to memory.
As for the unusual intervals that make earworms what they are, they come in the form of repeated notes and unexpected leaps.
Earworms have a greater possibility of getting to the top of the charts, and they also get more radio time.
Earworms and Understanding Brain Networks
Studying earworms might lead scientists to a better understanding of differences in the behaviour of brain networks pertaining to perception, emotions, memory and spontaneous thoughts in different people.
Detox for Earworms
The authors also suggest ways to get rid of earworms. According to them, consciously listening to the song will prevent your mind from singing it every now and then. Another way would be to think of something else or to simply listen to another song.