How To Get Rid Of An Earworm

Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
Have you had Taylor Swift stuck in your head all day? Or, perhaps, the latest release from Pitch Perfect's Barden Bellas? Us, too. Fortunately, it seems, getting a song out of your head is actually kind of easy. 

Recently, studies have shown that something as simple as chewing gum or solving puzzles could help get rid of that earworm. Why? "The theory is that it works by interrupting the phonological loop," says Elizabeth Margulis, director of University of Arkansas' Music Cognition Lab. This is the same sort of repetitive audio loop that occurs when you're rehearsing a phone number as a pattern.

"When we're listening to music, especially music we've heard before, we're listening ahead," Margulis says. "So we're playing it in our head. And, when there's nothing out there we can continue playing it through our head." Imagine someone playing a scale — but refusing to play that last note. You'd end up hearing that final note before rushing over to finish the scale for them.

Pop songs especially are prone to becoming earworms. "They tend to be something that's catchy, but a tune," Margulis says. "There’s some sweet spot between something traditional you can engage with, you can expect, and then a moment of surprise when a song does something a little unexpected."

Getting rid of a song in your head can be done in a number of ways. The easiest might just be to chew a stick of gum. In a recent study, participants were forced to listen to David Guetta's "Play Hard," before being told to not think about the music. The participants were then asked to press a "q" key when they thought of the song. Turns out, when participants were asked to chew mild, sugar-free gum, the "q" was pressed far less often — roughly a third less.
The idea? "Brain regions involved in hearing, remembering and imagining tunes...also [include] regions more usually associated with speech production," Dr. Phil Beaman, who led the study, told The Huffington Post. Any similar activity that interferes with our "inner speech" could work on a larger scale, Beaman said in a release

Generally, anything that needs your full attention could help get rid of a song. "Earworms tend to happen when your mind is wandering, so if you leave yourself some task you have to pay attention to, they tend to go away," Margulis says. "Some people just force themselves to think about a song they really like, like an earworm transplant, but mostly the tricks tend to be about getting yourself involved with something."
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Still, that task can't be too difficult (like this epic logic problem that confounded the Internet last month). "If you are trying something too hard, then your brain will not be engaged successfully, so that music can come back," Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University, told The Telegraph. His study, published two years ago, found that simple puzzles like Sudoku or anagrams could help prevent earworms, as opposed to something a bit more involved.

So, what to do if you get "Ignition," or, god forbid, "It's a Small World" stuck in your head? (Apologies, dear reader, if that inspired an earworm.) Don't worry, you're not alone. According to Margulis, roughly 90 percent of people get a song stuck in their head once a week, and a quarter get earworms several times a day. For those suffering from an earworm attack, we imagine a combination of all these tricks would work. Grab your nearest pencil and get started on a Sudoku puzzle, while chewing some mild gum vigorously. You'll thank us when Carly Rae Jepsen releases her next album.  
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