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Music Entertainment Idle Science

Scientists Study Getting an Unwanted Tune Out of Your Head 219

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Richard Gray reports that scientists have found a way to help anyone plagued by those annoying tunes that lodge themselves inside our heads and repeat on an endless loop — when snippets of a catchy song inexplicably play like a broken record in your brain. The solution can be to solve some tricky anagrams to force the intrusive music out of your working memory allowing the music to be replaced with other more amenable thoughts. 'The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,' says Dr Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University who conducted the research. 'If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head.' Hyman says that the problem, called involuntary memory retrieval, is that something we can do automatically like driving or walking means you are not using all of your cognitive resource, so there is plenty of space left for that internal jukebox to start playing. Dr Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, says that the most likely songs to get stuck are those that are easy to hum along to or sing and found that that Lady Gaga was the most common artist to get stuck in people's heads, with four of her catchy pop songs being the most likely to become earworms – Alejandro, Bad Romance, Just Dance and Paparazzi. Other surveys have reported Abba songs such as Waterloo, Changes by David Bowie or the Beatles' Hey Jude."
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Scientists Study Getting an Unwanted Tune Out of Your Head

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  • no subject (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:06PM (#43273797)

    great ... now i got Hey Jude stuck in my head

    • by halltk1983 ( 855209 ) <halltk1983@yahoo.com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:09PM (#43273843) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, listing the most common songs to get stuck in someone's head has to be one of more effective trolls to hit the front page in a while.
      • by MrHanky ( 141717 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @04:17PM (#43275279) Homepage Journal

        For me, it helps imagining the tune as sung a capella by the Swedish chef from the Muppet Show.

    • by pixelpusher220 ( 529617 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:11PM (#43273869)
      "Its a small world after all, It's a small world after all...

      You're welcome.
      • by Bucc5062 ( 856482 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <2605ccub>> on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:14PM (#43273923)

        You sir, make Lex Luthor seem nice.

      • by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:46PM (#43274339)
        Where is the "+1 Evil" mod when I need it...
      • by Petron ( 1771156 )

        8 6 7 5 3 o 9

        • by pspahn ( 1175617 )

          Number sequences are incredibly catchy.

          My family's business has a radio ad that is infamous in the Denver area for it's use of numbers... specifically they are directions to get there (pretty ingenious of my late grandfather, really)

          You take Eyeeeee Twenty Five to exit Twooooo Thirty Five.... then Fiveeee miles west to The Tree Farm!

          (those of you who know this jingle... go buy a tree and plant it... that will keep your brain busy!)

      • That doesn't TRULY stick unless you know the verses. - then it becomes the Tactical Nuclear Weapon of Head-songs...

        Allow me to demonstrate

        It's a small world after all, It's a small world after all, It's a small world after all, It's a small, small word.

        It a world of laughter, a world of tears. It's a world of hope and a world of fears. There's so much that we share, and it's time we're aware. It's a small world after all.

        It's a small world after all, It's a small world after all, It's a small world afte

      • Re:no subject (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:12PM (#43274665) Homepage Journal

        Obviously not enough Slashdotters have had children...

        This is the song that never ends,
        It just goes on and on my friend.
        Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
        And they'll continue singing it forever just because...

        Credits to the late, great Sherri Lewis

      • Hey, I just read your post
        And this is crazy
        But here's my number
        So call me maybe.
      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        This is the song that never ends
        yes it goes on and on my friend
        Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was
        and they'll continue singing it forever just because

        This is the song that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend. ...

      • > "Its a small world after all, It's a small world after all...

        In the second week of December 2012, the ride broke down in Walt Disney World, and my boat was straddling the wall between the final room and the unloading area. It was bad enough for us. But I could not imagine the horror for the people who were in boats further back. In the boat immediately behind us, a couple had an infant that was screaming and screaming. I felt so sorry for them. The infant could no doubt detect the stress of the
    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      A little pr0n will clear out the head pronto.

    • I'd much rather have Hey Jude stuck in my head than that annoying "Musical Doodle" song from spongebob squarepants. My son was engaged in scientific study of his own, listening to that over and over again while I was half asleep. This seems to be a great way of forcing a song stuck into someone's head.

  • Nope (Score:5, Funny)

    by neminem ( 561346 ) <neminem@@@gmail...com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:08PM (#43273819) Homepage

    I'm at work right now. I should be programming. Instead, I'm being distracted with Springtime for Hitler (from The Producers) driving me crazy all morning. Get it out!

    (Ok, yes, also I'm writing tests, which are boring, so his hypothesis probably *is* right: I could drive that song out if I were working on something that actually engaged my brain and made me want to devote all my brainpower to it.)

    • Re:Nope (Score:5, Funny)

      by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:26PM (#43274089)
      Whenever you're doing a boring task, just think of the Benny Hill theme song [youtube.com] and things go at twice their normal speed! Sometimes you're even chased by girls in bikinis while you're doing it! It's like magic!
      • The William Tell Overture will work for that purpose too. (the twice speed part, not he bikini-babe part)

        Ever since they used it on the intro to The Lone Ranger, as the hero sped across the countryside on horseback, that song has run through my head whenever I'm in a hurry.

        Although, I could probably use more bikini-babes in my life.... I'll have to try THAT one next time...

        • But you'll probably only get to pat some short really old guy on his bald pate. Total anti-climax.

          BTW, I submit another tune for the purpose of speeding things up: "Flight of the Valkyries"
    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      I'm at work right now. I should be programming. Instead, I'm being distracted with Springtime for Hitler (from The Producers) driving me crazy all morning. Get it out!

      Would you prefer Will Ferrel's rendition of Haben Sie Gehurt Das Deustche Band?

  • Anecdotal Evidence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by regular_guy ( 1979018 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:09PM (#43273847)
    Though I don't listen to pop music, I've found it often to be quite invasive. But I have easily gotten it out of my head by actually singing it, might be some sort of internal thought process that needs to be executed. But again, just some guy's anecdote.
  • by dirk ( 87083 )

    Now I have the worst mashup ever stuck in head!

    • The reason why the suggested solution doesn't work for anyone on slashdot is that it sequires you to think, even a little bit. and, of course, this IS slashdot.

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        No, the reason it doesn't work on slashdot is that the cognitively challenging chosen task is usually a classic video game. With looped music. That gets stuck in your head.

  • After reading those song titles of Lady Gaga's, I started humming them, and now I can't get them out! Reading an article about removing earworms leads to earworm. Epic fail! Guess I should go do some anagrams.
  • by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:14PM (#43273917)
    Better watch out for Summertime Song. That dude is dangerous
  • Even injured? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thereitis ( 2355426 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:15PM (#43273927) Journal

    Mountaineer Joe Simpson famously reported being bothered by a song he hated – Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M – as he lay injured on a glacier in Peru. Fearing he might die, the tune played endlessly in his head, he later recalled.

    I would have thought being injured and fearing for your life would be enough to drive a song out of your mind, but apparently not! Though I wonder if shock might bring on this sort of "looping" in your mind, focusing on something else as a form of escapism.

  • I'm trying to drive out an annoying TV theme song right now by listening to Pandora until I find a song I'd rather have stuck in my head.

  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:27PM (#43274101)

    Obligatory xkcd [xkcd.com]

  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:28PM (#43274117)

    There was a similar study long ago not dealing with how to get the song out alone, but also what the cause of the song being stuck was. The majority of cases tended to be related to the brain not being able to remember or work out a part of the song. That study also gave the easiest remedy to the issue: Listen to the song from start to finish without interruption. In a majority of their test cases, the playing of the song jogged the memory and filled in the gaps allowing the brain to move on to other things.

    • That works in some cases, certainly, and it has for me in the past. In many cases, however, it simply doesn't work. For instance, I've had a song stuck in my head since Friday, and it's now Monday. It's a pleasant enough song that I heard for the first time on Friday, and since then I've listened to it several more times uninterrupted, yet it's still stuck in my head. I woke up this morning to it stuck in my head again.

      The only thing I find that works for me is engaging my brain fully by doing an activity o

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        You may try the song backward as well as forward. The brain does process things that way more often than people will admit, and perhaps it needs something in the fore from the song in reverse?

  • The only song there I even recognize is Hey Jude, and it doesn't ever get stuck in my head.

    I don't think any of those have the same power as TV show themes do. I can get anything from the Facts of Life to Thundercats to the Knight Rider theme stuck easier than anything else, as well as several Phineas and Ferb songs.

    I'm not sure that even those can compete with the dark power unleashed by Friday's announcement of the remastered Duck Tales game. Odds are good that was an evil plot to study the effects of get

    • by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:05PM (#43274571)
      I've spent a lot of time on hold waiting for tech support over the years. The absolute worst was a vendor who had a CD with the theme songs for nine different sitcoms. Spent over an hour and a half one day listening to the theme from Friends, Mad About You, The Simpsons, etc.

      The best ever was when I called Symantec about fifteen years ago. Their 'Muzak on hold' machine had broken and someone had run out to their car in the parking lot and brought in their Sony Discman to plug into the phone system. The CD in the player was Bill Cosby's 'Wonderfulness' album. By the time tech support finally picked up the phone I was in a pretty good mood. Only good experience I ever had with Symantec tech support.
  • It means that if a kid at school, or a white collar worker claims to have a song stuck in their head; it means that they are slacking off at school/work.
    • or they are doing something that is not enough of a mental challenge like it mentions in TFS. oh wait, this is /. people don't read TFS or TFA.
      • Didn't you get the memo? This is the US of A, around these parts we're expected to be fully engaged for a solid 8 hours (including breaks and lunches) in our work. Longer if you're salaried, because that means legally they now own you and every moment of your conscious being. This includes reserving the right to wake you from unconsciousness without warning to call you into the office (and you'd best think about what you need to do once you get to work, on the way to work.)

        • what's a memo, is that anything like an email?
          • by s.petry ( 762400 )

            It's an email that says "memo" at the top?

            Humor aside, when I left Michigan the company I worked for gave us a verbal memo dictating that we all had to work 2080 hours per year whether we liked it or not (I had good reason to leave MI). We also got a nice 5% pay reduction due to the poor economy. The verbal memo was to save them from a law suit that would have been provable if they wrote something down.

  • ...is to think of one that's even worse.
    Works every time, until you hit the bottom.
    For me it's either an airhead singing about the end of a work week, or a giant imaginary purple dinosaur singing about how he can't stick to a single lover.
  • That could be the way to fixing up people who keep being fixated on issues, regarless whether it's a tune or some form of OCD..
  • by devjoe ( 88696 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:39PM (#43274247)
    From the article:

    Some of the easiest songs to get stuck in your head (as used by the researchers)
    Alejandro – Lady Gaga
    Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
    Call me Baby – Carly Rae Jepsen.
    Single Ladies – Beyoncé
    She Loves You – The Beatles
    I Wanna Hold Your Hand – The Beatles
    She Loves You – The Beatles
    SOS – Rihanna
    You Belong with Me – Taylor Swift

    Apparently She Loves You is such a catchy song that it gets stuck in your head twice.

  • ... how to get this [youtube.com] out of my head.

    [Thanks a lot, Nurse Ratched.]

  • by kurt555gs ( 309278 ) <kurt555gs AT ovi DOT com> on Monday March 25, 2013 @02:44PM (#43274297) Homepage

    A gut goes to the doctor and says he has " She's a Lady " playing over and over and over in his head. The doctor says, you may be suffering from Tom Jones disease. The guy asks, is that common? The doctor reply's, well, It's Not Unusual .......

  • Meditation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Grampa John ( 1817948 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:05PM (#43274565)
    I was plagued by bad songs stuck in my head until I took up meditation many years ago. Learning to focus clears your mind. No anagrams needed. Watching your breathing is enough.
  • Ha! (Score:5, Funny)

    by carrier lost ( 222597 ) on Monday March 25, 2013 @03:05PM (#43274567) Homepage

    One of my (so far unused) fake headlines:

    "Music 'Stuck in Head' is Theft, According to RIAA Chief"

  • Ok so once I heard a way to stop the song going in your head is to end the song in your head with a big huge finale ending (complete with fireworks and encore if you want to go big). Then right after that start a different tune in your mind of any other song you know. This has worked pretty well for me
  • Is to play them on the piano. Once played my brain can move on to other things. It's like nudge nudge, it goes like this.... try it out... nudge nudge... it goes like this .. try it out...... and so on, until it is satisfied.

  • The old "Hockey Night in Canada" theme, once unofficially considered Canada's second national anthem.
  • I find that songs that are stuck in my head are ones that have a repetitive section, but I don't know the end of the song. To get a song unstuck, I sing a song that I know from start to finish (out loud if possible, in my head if not) and then distract myself.

    For me the most successful song for this purpose is the Muppet Show Theme.

  • Can they do something about the high pitched ringing tone inside my head?
    • by cusco ( 717999 )
      I've been asking that for about 30 years now, and so far the answer is 'No'. I was 21 when I saw a newspaper article about Tinnitus, and was shocked. I just thought that everyone's ears rang all the time.
  • I'm a climber and during the long boring approaches in very early morning, when your brain is half asleep on semi-auto, I always have the latest tune I heard in the car playing back and forth. Fortunately as soon as the climbing starts, it's nowhere to be heard again, confirming what they say in TFA about the brain 'not being engaged enough'. So my trick is to play a good song just before parking the car, otherwise it can really drive you to jump off a cliff if it's Chris Brown.
  • "... so there is plenty of space left for that infernal jukebox to start playing."

    Works for me anyway.

  • I heard the trick is to play the "happy birthday" song in your head. Like some comment said, when the brain plays the song from start to finish, it moves on. The Happy Birthday song will very rapidly replace the song stuck in your head and when it comes to the finish, the brain will naturally move on from songs.

    You'd have to make a voluntary effort to go back to the song you wanted to remove from your head.

  • Alejandro chorus: IV-I-V-vi
    Poker Face vi-IV-I-V
    others are similar or the same (one uses a closely related minor instead, as I recall) - the cycle is identical, it just starts on a different chord.

    I remember hearing somewhere that 36% of pop music used that progression (or maybe it was #1 songs for a specific year). Axis of Awesome makes fun of it. Rob Paravonian nailed it in his Pachelbel rant (as a fellow cellist that plays guitar that had gone on a similar rant, beautifully done).

  • ...full of hollowpoints?
  • We're no strangers to love
    You know the rules and so do I
    A full committiment's what I'm thinking of
    You just wouldn't get this from any other guy
    I just want to tell you how I'm feeling
    Gotta make you understand

    Never gonna give you up,
    Never gonna let you down
    Never gonna run around, and desert you
    Never gonna make you cry,
    Never gonna say goodbye
    Never gonna tell a lie, and hurt you

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.