Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting to grips with earworms

An earworm is a song, or fragment of a song, that gets stuck in your head and continually repeats itself. When the mountaineer Joe Simpson, for instance, was near death in the Andes all he could think about was the Boney M song 'Brown Girl in the Ring.' Very little research has been done on earworms but two British psychologists, Philip Beaman from the University of Reading and Tim Williams have surveyed just over 100 people in an attempt to find out more. They found that earworms weren't more common in people with musical expertise although they were more common in people who thought music was important. Only a third of the earworms were described as unpleasant obsessions, very few recurred in the same day and most were usually gone by the same day. However, most strategies to banish them only seemed to make things worse. There was little evidence that some tunes were more likely to become earworms than others and 'earworm potential' appeared to be determined by the amount of exposure to a tune and its relative simplicity and repetitiveness.

You can find out more about this research at


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