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HowStuffWorks.com Answers: Why Do Songs Suddenly Appear ... to Get Stuck ... in Your Ear?

        | HSW

Social networking poll reveals television theme songs are among most common "earworm" culprits

ATLANTA - May 20, 2010 May represents the beginning of a season known for television sweeps, school dances, summer radio sing-alongs - and songs that get stuck in peoples' heads. In an effort to explain this phenomenon known as an "earworm," HowStuffWorks.com, the award-winning, unbiased online source for thousands of topics, is sharing information on the topic, "Why Do Songs Get Stuck in My Head?"

Earworms cause a "brain itch" in the auditory cortex that makes a person's brain keep "singing along" after a song has actually ended. The only way to essentially "scratch" the brain itch is repeating a song over and over again in a person's mind. Even worse, some research finds that earworms are an attempt to suppress a song -which means the harder a person tries not thinking about it, the more persistent the song becomes.

To dig deeper into this irksome occurrence, HowStuffWorks.com surveyed its network of Facebook fans to learn what kinds of songs get stuck in peoples' heads (and why). Dozens of responses elicited five clear earworm trends:

  1. Theme songs always do the trick. Whether it is a television series or a movie soundtrack; uplifting or frightening; old or new; theme songs ranked high in terms of "song stick-ability."
  2. They have memorable melodies, lyrics or rhythms. Certain melodic patterns, easy-to-remember lyrical phrases or recognizable rhythms also cause a person to keep a song in his or her mind.
  3. Think twice before updating one's status. Sharing song lyrics via social networking sites, or actually mentioning how a song is stuck in one's head can be contagious, and cause that song to stick in a reader's head as well.
  4. Sometimes a catchy single comes in the form of a jingle. Commercial jingles were mentioned by many people who said they keep humming the tunes long after the television gets turned off.
  5. The hits just keep on coming. Especially popular songs, from classic hits to current top-charters, have catchy characteristics that make them unforgettable and especially prone to playing on repeat in a person's mind.

Fortunately, Cristen Conger and Molly Edmonds, bloggers and hosts of the podcast, Stuff Mom Never Told You, have advice on how to combat this phenomenon. "Odd as it sounds, I find it can be helpful to imagine the earworm actually climbing out of my ear," Conger suggests. "Or you can find a diversion," Edmonds adds. "For me, thinking of another song or keeping myself busy with another activity does wonders."

For more tips and more information on earworms and how songs get stuck in one's head, please visit HowStuffWorks.com.

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HowStuffWorks.com is an award-winning online resource that provides credible and easy-to-understand information and explanations for thousands of topics. The site has been recognized with multiple Webby Awards and has been prestigiously designated among Time Magazine's "25 Web Sites We Can't Live Without" and PC Magazine's "Top 100 Web Sites." In 2007, HowStuffWorks.com was acquired by Discovery Communications (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK).