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I Have Earworms!


Have you ever woken up in the morning, and climbed out of bed to realize that your head is looping the chorus of a song over and over again? Maybe you grab some coffee, or step into the shower with the same couple of lines from that song going round and round and round in your brain. Does it seems like it is always a song that you haven't heard in ages? Then find yourself scratching your head wondering where it came from. It's a phenomenon that has irritated the hell out of me for a long time. I've been plagued with this for years. So last month, I decided to do an informal study. I started to keep track of the songs that would be in my head when I woke up, just to see if there was some kind of pattern.

Of all the songs that I had looping in my head, I found a couple that occurred most frequently. Everything Falls Apart by Dog's Eye View was by far the most recurring song in my head in the mornings, which is odd because I can't remember having listened to that song for at least a couple of years. Murray Head's One Night in Bangkok and Breathless by The Corrs were tied for second. Again, I can't even begin to tell you when I last listened to either of those songs in the last year or two. Now here is the really bizarre part to all of this. The song that came in third is an advertising jingle from the early 1980s for the Ideal Manufacturing Company of Hammonton, New Jersey. If you grew up in South Jersey around that time, you may remember hearing it.

"If you've got a passion for fashion, if you've got a craving for savings, take the wheel of your automobile, and swing on down to Ideal."

Needless to say, I have not heard that one in over 20 years. Yet, it seems to haunt my waking hours almost as much as the other songs I mentioned. Not quite sure why that is.

Armed with my list of songs, I decided to do a little more research. It turns out that this phenomenon is called Earworms, or involuntary musical imagery as psychologists call it. Probably not the best name if you don't want to cause people to panic. Anyway, studies suggest that 90 percent of people get them at least once a week.

According to a British study from 2012, researchers were able to identify four main triggers for earworms. The most common is music exposure, either recently hearing the tune or repeatedly hearing it. The second was memory triggers, where something reminds you of the song. The third reason for earworms is your emotional frame of mind, or what they call "affective states." If you were feeling stressed, surprised, or happy when you heard the song. And, finally, the fourth reason is "low attention states." A wandering mind, whether because of daydreaming or dreaming at night, can set off earworms.

The one thing the study doesn't explain is how to stop the involuntary musical imagery. The researcher says that will be in the next research project.

So, I am curious. Do you wake up with involuntary musical imagery? What songs loop round and round in your head each morning?


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