Science Says “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” to Songs That Get Stuck in Your Head
by Susana Polo | 4:15 pm, March 25th, 2013
Science, always out there doing things like landing car-sized robots on the moon and then making twitter accounts for them, or discovering the particle responsible for matter having mass and then shutting down for “upgrades.” What has it ever done for you, personally these days?
It’s good to see some scientists tackling the important issues, like how to get rid of a song that’s been stuck in your head.
Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that the most effective way to get a song out of your head is to perform a mental task like solving a puzzle. Specifically, they used anagrams and Sudoku. You’ve got to hit something of a sweet spot, though.
They found that while Sudoku puzzles could help prevent the songs from replaying their heads, if they were too difficult it had little effect.
Anagrams were more successful and they found that solving those with five letters gave the best results.
“Verbal tasks like solving anagrams or reading a good novel seem to be very good at keeping earworms out,” said Dr [Ira] Hyman, who now hopes to examine whether similar techniques could be used to prevent other intrusive thoughts caused by anxiety or obsessiveness.
Songs that are easy to get stuck in one’s head, sometimes known as earworms, are a bit of a medical/scientific mystery. Nobody’s really sure what sort of mental process they spring out of, or what it is about music that allows it to intrude into our thoughts so often that it’s a near-universal human experience. All Dr. Hyman can say is “music is relatively harmless but easy to start. Choruses tend to get stuck in your head because they are the bit we know best and because we don’t know the second or third verse, the song remains unfinished. Unfinished thoughts are more likely to return.”
But with all the research he and his team did, they amassed a lot of good statistics on what songs are most earwormy. Lady Gaga, for example, was the reigning champion, with “Alejandro,” “Bad Romance,” “Just Dance” and “Paparazzi” being the easiest songs for them to get stuck in their subject’s heads. But they also got a lot of use out of Katy Perry‘s “California Girl” and Train‘s “Hey Soul Sister.”
Hmm, the best source of anagrams and Sudoku I can think of is your daily newspaper. Could this be the unexpected new lease on life print media is so desperately looking for?