The recipe to stop songs from getting stuck in our heads: Chew some gum!

In your head(29/04-2015) – Most of us know earworms: those annoying tunes that keep on re-playing in never ending loops in our heads. This can be terribly annoying (especially since these are not even songs we like).

Well, a team of scientists at the University of Reading, UK might have found the cure. They have published the result of their study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Taylor & Francis). The results of the research show the best way to block obsessive melodies is neither to read a good novel nor solve complex anagrams but, simply, to chew gum.

Earworms are experienced by over 99% of individuals (J. Kellaris) and they are often source of great stress for many.

The part of our brain that processes auditory information – the auditory cortex – is triggered when we listen to a song so, when we hear a familiar tune again, our mind fills in the rest, repeatedly. This is why it is tricky to get rid of earworms. However, the academic believes the solution is to be found in gum. The act of gum-chewing is very similar to irrelevant sub-vocalisation, which has proved to degrade short term memory performance as well as auditory images.

According to Beaman, irrelevant sub-vocalisation, like chewing, reduces the repetition of sticky tunes.

To test this theory the team carried out three separate experiments, in which participants were exposed to catchy tunes while either chewing or not chewing gum.

In experiment 1 the participants were exposed to a popular melody and first asked not to think about the music, and then let free to do so. Predictably, results proved gum-chewing reduced the number of times the tune was consciously experienced in music suppression.

Experiment 2 looked at the actual ‘hearing’ of music in participants’ heads. It also demonstrated the reducing effect of gum-chewing upon the music-hearing phenomenon.

Finally, experiment 3 was designed to assess whether the effects of gum were common to any kind of motor activity, or specific to the speech articulators only. To this end, partakers were asked to either chew some gum or tap with their fingers at the beat of a novel melody. The outcome showed that motor activity per se (tapping) was less effective than sub-vocal actions (chewing) in moderating the appearance of earworms.

So it seems that next time you get stuck with a tune, you’d better forget intricate anagrams and get some bubble-gum instead… Which is great for those of us who suck at maths! (Cyril Malka)

You can find the publication right here =>

Cyril Malka

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