Earworms. They’re those fragments of catchy songs that wriggle their way into your mind, mercilessly on repeat. We all get them from time to time. Seinfeld even dedicated an episode to them; in The New Jacket, George is convinced he’ll never get a Les Miserables song out of his head.
Earworms are not renowned for their great timing, and they can drive us to what can feel like the brink of insanity. They only tighten their grip the more we try to get them to release it. Willing them away is akin to being told to imagine a drunk penguin in a tutu and then being told not to think about it; the more you focus on an earworm, the louder it gets.
Earworms are often born from songs, radio ads or jingles we’ve been recently exposed to or heard repeatedly, and they can also feed off memories. You could fall susceptible to them by simply coming across a phrase that reminds you of a particular song, however their most common triggers are stress, boredom and the state we’re in prior to sleep (especially when we really need to be asleep).
Well, you can sleep sound tonight. Musical psychologist Dr Ira Hyman of Western Washington University claims to have come up with an effective way to exterminate pesky earworms. Anagrams. You remember those – they’re words or phrases formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. Apparently, the key is to come up with an anagram that provides the right level of challenge, for you personally.Your brain needs to be properly engaged or else that sly little earworm will weasel it’s way back in. Five letter anagrams usually do the trick.
Other verbal tasks, like reading, can work as earworm kryptonite. Mathematical problem solving tasks are usually less effective, so leave the sodukos for the train. Simply listening to a different song can help, just be careful not to create an earworm playlist!
What’s the longest you’ve lived with an earworm? What did you do to get rid of it?