You know how it goes. You hear a song on the radio, or TV and it gets stuck in your mind. Once there, it takes root and will (almost) never leave.
Among some of the worst offenders in my experience are songs such as:
- “Single Ladies” – Beyoncé
- “Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
- “Poker Face” – Lady Gaga
- …just about anything by – Lady Gaga
- “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
- “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – Taylor Swift
Did you know there’s even a term for these songs that won’t go away? Earworms…yes really !
If you’ve already got “Call Me Maybe” stuck in your head, or you’re thinking “if you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it” purely as a result of reading the above, I apologize!
But while I may have been the one to have exposed your impressionable mind to such repetitive refrains, the real culprit is the Zeigarnik Effect – the terrific-but-occasionally-traumatic tendency we have to keep thinking about tasks we’ve left incomplete. As humans we like to finish what we’ve started. So even when our conscious minds move on to a new thing, our unconscious minds remain preoccupied with our unfinished business, leading to dissonance.
According to music psychologist Ira Hyman, who recently published a paper on earworm science (who knew?!?) songs function much like puzzles in our brains. Music is catchy because its patterns and rhythms engage our minds like a crossword puzzle would. And the music of Ms’s Carly Rae, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Gaga, apparently fall into that cognitive sweet spot of attention and inattention, making them especially “sticky.”
Music is different from puzzles, though, in one significant way: while puzzles can be solved, songs have no obvious solution. So they stay. And stay. And stay. Haunting and taunting and put-a-ring-ing in our ears.
But…big drum roll… scientists may have found a way to stop them. Hyman and his colleagues figured that if earworms function like puzzles, they might be vanquished by puzzles, too. Their researcher concluded that cognitive subterfuge is the best way to rid the mind of sticky songs. In other words, if you want to get rid of an earworm, you just have to fool your brain into solving another, non-musical puzzle.
The best way to do that? Give your brain an actual puzzle to concentrate on. Do a crossword. Tackle an anagram. Trick your mind out of its need to finish what it started by giving it something else – something simple, but not too simple – to focus on.
Solving anagrams might not always be the best way to spend your time, sure. But it’s a small price to pay.
And, even though – this is crazy – it’s much, much better than having “Call Me Maybe” stuck in your head all day!