Help, I've Got Ear Worms!
Nicki Minaj has given me an ear worm infestation. Disgusting? Not quite. An "ear worm" is the catchy name for a song that get stuck in your head easily. Many of us find ourselves plagued by ear worms. But what makes some songs stick?
Researchers at a recent conference on music and the brain have been trying to get to the bottom of the problem. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, has noted a few common denominators. One, ear worms tend to be melodically and rhythmically simple. Two, the "sticky" part of the song is usually a segment. rather than the whole song. And three, you seem to be able to lose an ear worm by listening to a different song. Some people even have trouble sleeping on account of ear worms!
"What we think is going on is that the neural circuits get stuck in a repeating loop and they play this thing over and over again," Levitin said.
Why do songs get stuck in our head so easily? It might be evolutionary. Before we had writing, our ancestors used music to remember important information—with everything from hunter-gatherer tribes recording watering holes through song, to the Iliad and the Torah both being sung long before they were written down. Music may simply be in our DNA. Now I need to go get rid of my earworm...