Why you can't get that tune out of your head
Perhaps one of the most universal experiences in rave culture, the earworm can be utterly frustrating, but also strangely enjoyable. Having a tune playing incessantly in your head happens to us all at some point.
Typically you’ll find that the way to “break the spell” is to actually put the tune on, ending what can be a torturous experience. But why does it happen and what is actually going on in our brain when an earworm finds its way into our consciousness?...
Whether it’s a catchy pop song or a repetitive underground bomb, those with good memory function or a background in music are more susceptible. Also if you have an obsessive compulsive disorder, sensitivity to music or neurosis (anxiety, self-consciousness) you’re more likely to suffer from what’s also called Stuck Song Syndrome.
Obvious as it may sound, hearing a particularly catchy song leads to earworms. But also simply feeling good, reminiscing or indulging in nostalgia can also be triggers behind the neverending psychological loop. Stress can also play a big role in the brain’s need to latch onto something repetitive.
Earworms can occur when a musical memory is triggered in the auditory cortex of your brain, which, as the name suggests, stores audio “data”. With an earworm, the brain transfers a short clip of this sound information to the “phonological loop,” a short-term memory system in the auditory cortex, where it gets stuck on repeat.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
A key factor in earworms persisting is resistance. The more you try to block the song or tune, the more it will stay stuck in your head, which social psychologist Daniel Wegner christened the ironic process theory. A better way to deal with it, is to listen to the tune in its entirety, or find an activity to distract yourself with; sports, playing a video game or anything that occupies body and mind.
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