Drowning Out the Earworm: No Cure for Songs Stuck in Your Head

Unexpected and insidious, the earworm slinks its way into the brain and refuses to leave. Symptoms vary, although high levels of annoyance and frustration are common. There are numerous potential treatments, but no cure.

" Earworm" is the term coined by University of Cincinnati marketing professor James Kellaris for the usually unwelcome songs that get stuck in people's heads.

Kellaris has been studying earworms since 2000 and has heard from people the world over. In 2002 he asked 500 students, faculty and staff on campus about the type, frequency and duration of earworms, and possible causes and cures.
The most annoying fit into the "other" category meaning the majority chose a unique song of their own as the most probable earworm. Kellaris concludes that stuck songs are highly idiosyncratic.

The study, presented at conferences of the Society for Consumer Psychology in 2001 and 2003, showed:
-Women report more irritation and frustration as a result of earworms.
-People who are constantly exposed to music suffer them more frequently.
-There may be a connection between earworms and a person's level of neurosis.
" People with higher neuroticism scores tend to react to the onset of an earworm by saying 'Oh no, here it goes again, I wonder how long this is going to last,'" Kellaris said. "That fretting about it, I think, exacerbates it."

For marketers, earworms can be a "double-edged sword."They need to make sure the songs trigger the right kind of emotions

Source: RACHEL KIPP The Associated Press Monday, October 20, 2003; ALBANY, N.Y.