Song Stuck In Your Head?
You're Not Alone

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The vast majority of people say they have been mentally tortured at one point in their lives by a song that keeps repeating itself over and over in their heads.
And new research shows that people most frequently plagued by this phenomenon are those with slightly neurotic tendencies, and people who enjoy and listen to music often.
These mental broken records are also more likely to play the first or last song we hear in different situations, such as the first song that comes on in the morning alarm, or the last song playing before we turn off the car, study findings show.
Songs that topped the list as being most likely to stick around in someone's head included the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and the Chili's restaurant jingle about Baby Back Ribs.
But the number one song rated most likely to cause this phenomenon, referred to as an "earworm" in Germany, is "other"--indicating that many different songs can become stuck in our heads.
"Just about anything can get stuck in people's heads," study author Dr. James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati told Reuters Health.
"We each have our personal demonic tunes that get stuck in our heads, I guess," he added.
Kellaris presented results from his current study on Saturday at the Society for Consumer Psychology Winter Conference in New Orleans.
Kellaris's previous research into the phenomenon of earworms revealed that "sticky" songs are those that are relatively simple, repetitive, and contain an element that surprises the listener. This incongruous element can be an interrupted pattern, or something that violates expectations of what comes next.
During the current study, Kellaris distributed surveys to 559 people aged 18 to 49 asking them about their personalities, how often tunes got stuck in their heads, how long the episodes lasted, and when the phenomenon was most likely to happen.
Ninety-eight percent of respondents said they had experienced stuck songs. Most said the episodes occurred "frequently," and lasted an average of a few hours.
Songs with lyrics were most often the culprits, a trend that Kellaris said is not surprising. Often what gets sticky is not just a tune, but also lyrics, a trend he calls "stupid lyrics syndrome." Combining a tune and lyrics ups the chance of song snippets staying with the listener for hours, he said.
Episodes of earworms also tend to strike people with neurotic tendencies more often. These people are not seriously neurotic, Kellaris said, but may simply be more prone to worrying and anxiety, and may have neurotic habits like biting pencils or tapping fingernails.
Women were more likely than men to report feeling annoyed, frustrated, or irritated about having songs stuck in their heads--a trend Kellaris said he is hard pressed to explain.
In terms of how to protect yourself from earworms, Kellaris recommended that people not worry about a stuck song as soon as it appears, and perhaps avoid listening to music for a spell if it becomes too sticky.
Strategies people report using to rid themselves of stuck tunes involved trying to listen to something else, distracting themselves with another activity, and trying to erase the repetition of one song snippet by singing the song all the way through.
"If they can't remember the lyrics, sometimes it helps for them to sing through the entire song, and then it will go away," Kellaris said.
Kellaris said he has also heard a "folkloric" recommendation of chewing on cinnamon sticks to rid the brain of a sticky song.
"Some people swear that will unstick a stuck tune," he said.
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