The Buzz About Earworms

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that absolutely will not subside? Maybe you woke up with it, or perhaps all it took was 3 minutes of Lady Gaga singing Bad Romance on the radio. Or perhaps you have certain hearing conditions that make you feel as if you’re constantly hearing music. Regardless of the reason why, chances are this has probably happened to you — it’s a pesky little phenomenon called ‘Earworms.’ And if you’re like 90% of us, you have an Earworm at least once a week (according to a study from the Proceedings of the 10th Conference on Music Perception and Cognition). So, what’s all the buzz about Earworms? (And how can Sonic help?) It’s got a little to do with science and a lot to do with our emotions.

Why do Earworms happen?

The truth is, nobody really knows exactly why Earworms occur. However, ABC News recently discussed what made the Summer 2017 viral hit, Despacito by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, just so viral. The music video surpassed 3 billion views on YouTube, making it the most viewed video of all time on this platform (but surely, the number of Despacito-induced Earworms are infinite). As ABC’s Nick Watt explained it, most “Earworm tunes” have upbeat tempos, trigger positive emotion and have unexpected leads/rhythms, all of which make them particularly catchy. Thus, repeated exposure to a song or melody plays a large role in its ability to become an Earworm. Conversely, some researchers attribute Earworms to boredom, or wandering minds. One of these researchers, Professor Kellis of the University of Cincinnati, likens Earworms to a “cognitive itch” that needs to be scratched.

What are the most common types of Earworms?

Usually, Earworms depend on your taste in music. But popular music or advertising campaigns with commercial jingles take the lead for the most commonly experienced Earworms (think: Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out? or Chili’s Baby Back Ribs). For some people, though, Earworms never go away — it’s a form of Tinnitus called Musical Ear Syndrome, which is the perception of music or singing, sometimes in the same tune on a constant loop. For those with this type of Tinnitus, Tinnitus-masking features in certain hearing instruments may help alleviate symptoms. But for those with Earworms, there are a few different strategies to find relief.

How can I eliminate Earworms?

Some say abstinence is the best way to stop Earworms — don’t listen, hum, or whistle the song that’s stuck inside your head at any time. Others claim that fully embracing the song, or listening to it from start to finish one time over, is the best cure. And some people even posit that distracting yourself by chewing gum just after listening to the song or choosing a completely different song to listen to, will do the trick. Unfortunately, though, there is no defined solution for avoiding or ridding ourselves from Earworms completely.

On the flip side, if you really enjoy a specific song or melody, having an Earworm isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s a nod to how wonderful the ability to hear truly is. Staying on the road towards healthy hearing is the best way to listen, process and enjoy the entire world of music. So, find a hearing center near you and discover how you can make Everyday Sounds Better with a little help from your hearing care professional and Sonic hearing instruments!

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