The Science Of Earworms [VIDEO]

An interesting explanation of the Zeigarnik Effect and the most successful cures for pop music earworms.

  • Michael Rush

    ” Don’t You Want Me Baby ? ”
    ( I turned of my radio until that song went away )

  • Prion

    Fast talking with all the natural pauses between sentences edited out might work for a 30 second commercial, but in an 8 minute video it is mind numbing.
    Earworm as a result of an unfinished task (hearing only part of a song) reminded me of
    knock knock knock “Penny”, knock knock knock “Penny”, knock knock knock “Penny”
    So we all have some degree of OCD.

    • JT
      • Brian in Valdosta

        Rawr. Me too.

      • lymis

        Honestly, I never understood the hate for the guy.

        • Octavio

          It’s the Gumby hair. Not a good look.

        • CanuckDon

          Gay clubland lit up in those dark days of the late ’80s with Rick’s music along with the other classic SAW releases from Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue and Bananarama so no hate on our dancefloors! We needed them….

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPYZpwSpKmA

    • BobSF_94117

      I wonder if the young whippersnappers are able to retain anything from that rapid-fire delivery. Me? Not so much. Of course, a lot of stuff ain’t sticking anymore like it used to…

    • Queequeg

      He did talk fast, but the subject was interesting enough that I watched the whole video.

    • mark99k

      Totally agree. I’m not slow-witted, but watching this clip was tiring. Why go to the trouble of making all those tight edits anyway? It’s not as if you get points for conserving.

  • bkmn

    “Touch me in the morning….”

    • Mark

      It’s fun to stay at the…

      Y M C A

      • Joe in PA

        It’s a small world after all. …

        Your welcome.

        • Bj Lincoln

          That was just mean. 🙂

        • BearEyes

          bastardo!

        • Acronym Jim

          Boo, hiss!

      • Bj Lincoln

        Really!

    • Bj Lincoln

      Awwww. Come on!

      • bkmn

        Hey, I didn’t embed the video…

    • Michael Rush

      OK , but do know any songs that would be described as earworms ?

  • Mark

    As much as the slow, droll pace of the CBS Mystery MC is annoying as all hell – so is this jack rabbit. But then, they probably had to do all the edits so he could wipe the 2 quarts of spittle from the sides of his mouth.

    Dude! Slow down! Take a breath! Life is like porridge!: not too fast, not too slow….but juuuuust right….

    • Hardley

      Although I usually find it a rather boorish thing to say, on this occasion I think this lad would benefit from having something stuck in his mouth so one can appreciate the beauty and none of the incessant babble.

      • CanuckDon

        Ohhh….you must be talking about a lollipop
        (speaking of crazy earworms…..)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6civIRyRtw

        • Octavio

          I loved this song when I was a kid. All the cool kids did. 🙂

          • cheakamus

            Archie, is that you?

          • Octavio

            It was 1958. Different time and different tastes. Ice cream was king. Drive-ins is where we went to fuck.

  • Joe knows who I am.

    I made it as far as 2:29 seconds before shutting him off. Anyone know how it ends?

    Did I win anything?

    • BearEyes

      Mostly things you may already do – think of a different song, distract yourself with another task – plus scientific speculation. Interesting information. Staccato delivery that was a tad too intense.

      • What A Maroon

        I sing (to myself) the entire “Swinging on a Star” in full Bing Crosby mode. I think the act of concentrating on the lyrics drives out the earworm, and for whatever reason that song doesn’t result in an earworm for me. I was being driven crazy by some ear confection by Ms Spears when I discovered this. It was a great help.

    • TuuxKabin

      he spoke way too fast, don’t know how it ends. do ear worms ever end? i’m glad his voice isn’t one (for me). you win just because you win.

    • CanuckDon

      You won the opportunity to listen to something much more interesting within that time….with one second to spare….

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTFEyFEu1Fk

  • Cipollina

    Try getting this tune out of your head.
    QMS… Quicksilver Messenger Service. Song is “Cobra”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umqe1Fb_FXQ

    • Necessitas

      Thanks for sharing. I’d never even heard of them. What a great, swampy, 60s vibe. Really very accomplished musicianship, and extremely listenable.

      • Cipollina

        Glad you liked the tune.
        I saw QMS live in NYC along with the Grateful Dead and Santana.
        Tickets cost $5 for 8 hours of music. Security was run by the Hells Angels.

        What can $5 buy these days?

    • Octavio

      Ah, yes . . . Nicky Hopkins. R.I.P.

  • Joe in PA

    “I’m an Oscar Meyer Weiner, that is what I really want to be ee ee.”

    • Bj Lincoln

      🙂

    • Wynter Marie Starr

      I used to sing that to annoy my kids.

      • Nic Peterson

        I used to sing it to annoy my parents. Tit for tat I suppose.

        • Wynter Marie Starr

          LOL, I like the song, it wouldn’t have annoyed me at all. It’s silly and goofy and tickles my funny bone.

      • Joe in PA

        and I bet it worked. 😉

        • Wynter Marie Starr

          It did and it still does.

    • bambinoitaliano

      oh lard! I had an ex colleague that would regularly singing that song. I think that’s the only song she knew.

    • OdieDenCO

      “My Bologna has a first name….” learned how to spell bologna with that one.

  • Wynter Marie Starr

    Now I’ve got the guy from Taxi going “slow down” in my head.

  • Bj Lincoln

    I am shocked I got thru that without my coffee. He sure talks fast!
    It was a great explanation and maybe some helpful hints to get them out of my head. Thanks for turning me on to another science show Joe!
    As for some of you silly guys below….I now have all your songs in my head!
    🙂

  • Brian in Valdosta

    Unfortunately, when you combine an almost photographic memory with the Zeigarnik Effect, you get an earworm that behaves much like an old phonograph with the arm pulled to the side: the record plays from beginning to end and then it repeats. In its entirety, complete with musical intro (when there is one).

    Ugh. I got one of my favourite songs stuck in my head one day. Aretha Franklin’s 1964 live rendition of “Drinking Again”, which starts with a really nice long belted-out note, and I could not shake it for the life of me. Now, I love that song. But after the 50th time running through in my head I wanted to scream.

    I’ll just share it here.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUzlRHNHckg

    • CanuckDon

      Aretha did it well but for me, nothing tops this version by disco diva Tasha Thomas. Too bad about the sound quality in this video….that album’s been through a couple of wars by the sound of it! (thankfully mine’s been handled with much more love)

      Ms. Tasha Thomas…gone way too soon…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-P6vcwQoEA

    • perversatile

      The eidetic version of Gilda Radner’s ”Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals”
      even has the skip in it from the first time I heard it on a LP, but then
      again, I’ve done a lot of blotter.

      • Cuberly

        OMG, isn’t that trip? So many version of songs I remember have the pops and ticks from the LP versions ground into memory. It’s to the point where when I hear a clean digital version, it’s almost irksome that the noise is missing.

        • perversatile

          I had an EP of Viola Willis’s “Stormy Weather” with such exquisitely placed skips, that all other versions seemed sad and lacking

  • My ex-bf discovered a magic song that chases annoying earworms away. I still listen to it whenever needed

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaCCG7QkM_c

    • Brian in Valdosta

      You basterd.

    • LonelyLiberal

      I wonder when wireless microphones were invented.

      • Necessitas

        Raymond A. Litke invented it and filed for a patent in 1957.

    • Natty Enquirer

      Ripped off the Sesame Street theme.

    • Cuberly

      OMG, bad Beaver Tales, BAD!

      I didn’t even click on the video and now it’s in my head. ARGH!

  • OdieDenCO

    Fascinating! said in my best Spock voice.

  • Disqusdmnj

    WHY WOULD I EVEN PLAY THE VIDEO???

    • Rosalyn Williams

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      • JCF

        Flagged.

        • Disqusdmnj

          Yeah, but how else will I learn how to make $98/hour and get a McLaren F1???

  • Sam_Handwich
    • samcollins

      OMG that was great. Then I fell off my chair when the video looped back to the beginning.
      I used to love Shari Lewis and Lambchop as a kid. Does that date me????

      • Nic Peterson

        Just like carbon, dear. Doesn’t make ya bad people.

  • Michael Rush

    Human League – Don’t you want me baby ?

    Anita Ward – Ring My Bell

    ( These songs both made me turn off my radio until they were gone )

    most recent horrible songs i can think of for irritating repitition-

    Sara Bareilles – Brave

    Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe

  • Tony Adams

    You can use “The Girl From Ipanema” to erase any ear worm, but nothing replaces that.

    • Tony Adams

      and for more on ear worms, chapter five of Oliver Sack’s “Musicophilia.”

    • Duh-David

      Nothing?
      “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears
      It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
      There’s so much that we share that it’s time we’re aware
      It’s a small world after all”

      • David Walker

        I finally licked that one when the gay men’s chorus did a concert of a world tour and I asked for suggestions for verses. Arranging that, fitting words in with a shoehorn, and picking it apart did it. That tends not to show up anymore, and when it does, there are many replacements available.

      • Justin

        You’re in league with Satan, aren’t you.

      • Natty Enquirer

        My version always has the Shermans’ perky little pickup into the chorus:

        Da dint-dint-da dint dint!
        It’s a small world…

  • bambinoitaliano

    Just about any mega hits that stay on the charts for months are consider as ear worms. Celine Dion My heart will go on. Whitney Houston I will always love you. Not on the chart is the Nyan rainbow farting cat.

    • lymis

      I was subjected to “You Light Up My Life” in its heyday. Celine don’t scare me.

      • David Walker

        OTOH, “The Candy Man”…

      • Octavio

        A born again christain used to sing/hum that constantly in an office where I worked. The only tune she knew. A coworker’s father died. The born again sent her a sympathy card with a $25 check enclosed with a note that said, “I’m sure you’ll be able to put this to good use.” My coworker friend endorsed the check over to the Hemlock Society as a donation. Best use of xtian money every. 🙂

      • Justin

        That makes my skin crawl even now almost 40 years later. Oy.

      • bambinoitaliano

        Not to mention Feelings.

        • TuuxKabin

          I don’t have any. I travel lite.

          • bambinoitaliano

            Yeah me too. Trying to forget my feelings of love…….

          • TuuxKabin

            ahhh sweetie. i’m sorry that’s your reason. you know, every time i see that cute lil’ nose of yours it makes me happy. you’re loved.

          • bambinoitaliano

            Compliment will get you everywhere.

    • TuuxKabin

      A friend’s little girl used to sing “I Will Almost Love You” to her mother. Was funny. She thought that were the lyrics.

  • Readen Reply

    Story story from Arthur C. Clarke in the 50’s “The Ultimate Melody” years before the 2001 book and movie. geek moment. pardon me.

  • Octavio

    I’ve caused a great trouble by playing or whistling several bars of Rossini’s “La gaza ladra”, (The Thieving Magpie). My colleague’s have threatened me with death if I ever dare to tinkle or sing it in their presence. 🙂

    • perversatile

      My cat said he’d poop in my shoes if I didn’t stop playing this
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5bJJviAX0c

      • Octavio

        Yup. Just about any part of that overture is addictive. It’s a great overture and played often by many orchestras. Ironically, the opera itself is rather lack luster and unmemorable. Go figure. 🙂

        • Claude Jacques Bonhomme

          Certainly caught the earworm after that particular episode of Sherlock…

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwoPSdtFqHg

        • Well, in 1966 the British musicologist Peter Gammond reported that Rossini “had a machine (a contraptiona as the Italians called it) in his room, a sort of musical computer (unfortunately since lost) which would turn out overtures to a formula. He had bought it cheap from Bellini who had never been able to get it to work properly. Rossini happened to have a good mechanical knack, got it working perfectly, and produced some really sparkling stuff from it. But he never got it to do a complete opera, as it couldn’t do vocal parts and he had to do these by hand. Which explains why the overtures never really seem to have anything to do with the rest of the opera … ”

          He adds a footnote to the effect that “some recent research has revealed that it was purchased by Balfe, who also managed to use it to good effect. He then took it to America, where it was last reported to be in the possession of Irving Berlin.”

          (Bluff your way in Music, 1966)

          As for The Thieving Magpie, I’ve only heard it once, in an ABC radio broadcast many years ago. I thought there was some lovely music in it, but even cribbing from a synopsis I found the convoluted plot impossible to follow. And it obviously needs first-rate singers to bring it off…

          • Octavio

            That’s a great story. I’ve never heard it before.

    • Hubby has a one iron clad rule, no singing the Umpa Lumpa song from Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My no go zone song is Kumbaya, which makes me wanna vom.

  • perversatile
    • Acronym Jim

      Not gonna click that one.

      • DaddyRay

        At this version you can learn something

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGM-wSKFBpo

        • lymis

          “Music by Tom Lehrer?!?”

          Please.

          It’s cute, but the music is Gilbert and Sullivan.

          • Octavio

            More specifically, Arthur Sullivan, the composer. Gilbert was a librettist. He didn’t write music.

          • The song is a parody of the Major-General’s song from Act I of The Pirates of Penzance, and while Lehrer doesn’t use W.S. Gilbert’s original words, the music remains that of Sir Arthur Sullivan.

        • perversatile
    • The one-L lama, he’s a priest,
      The two-L llama, he’s a beast ;
      And I will bet a silk pajama
      That there ain’t no three-L lllama!
      Ogden Nash

      • perversatile

        That is wonderful
        -Thank you!

  • DaddyRay

    I think it was here on JMG where I heard about http://unhearit.com

    “We created this site for those of you that have a song stuck in your head and you can’t get it out no matter what you do. Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology, we’ve been able to allow our users to “unhear” songs by hearing equally catchy songs. So really all we’re doing is making you forget your old song by replacing it with another one… sorry.”

    • B Snow

      Unfortunately, as they said, it just replaces one earworm with another, AND it only works if you know the song they offer. 🙂

  • Acronym Jim

    Ironically, I’m listening to Adele’s Rolling in the Deep as I type this. Not all earworms are bad.

    Next up: The Storm Large version of Where is my Mind.

    • TKW

      I have had Adele’s Hello in my head for at least two weeks.

    • Justin

      Her song “8 Miles Wide” is a definite ear worm.

  • DisT

    8 minutes of scientific explanations and foreign names that didn’t reveal any more than common sense would have.

    • DaddyRay

      Personally I don’t want them to unlock the mystery because as soon as they do then every song will follow the same formula
      Kind of like the “4 Cords”
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpB_40hYjXU

      • lymis

        Love that medley.

  • Mike C

    I’m a video editor and I cut a ton of 15-20 second clips for social media. My life is nothing but earworms.

    • perversatile

      I get ya Man,
      I speak Sound Bites as a second language

  • sisterfalconer

    I saw this film YEARS ago. I still have the earworm: https://youtu.be/FHMFooKZsFs?t=1m32s

  • hiker_sf

    I wonder why they haven’t studied a sure-bet cure for earworms: Porn and one’s own hand?

  • Queequeg

    Interesting video. I’m going to try the word puzzle thing next time Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” gets stuck in my head. I only have to hear a snippet of that song and it is stuck for the rest of the day.

    • Justin

      The say there was a sacred chord
      That David played, and it pleased the Lord
      But you don’t really care for music
      Do ya?

      You’re welcome. 🙂

      • Queequeg

        Now it’s there for the rest of the day. Thanks a lot. Actually I like the song, but it always causes an ear worm.

  • Acronym Jim

    Another good song to get stuck in your head by the incomparable Bessie Smith.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyRwomM37j8

    • TuuxKabin

      not only ear worm (St. Louis Blues) but a good song to just plain out sing. Gotta be the longest dwelling ear worm for me, ever since I first heard it god knows how long ago. Long time ago.

  • Natty Enquirer

    I often get stuck on Eine Kleine Earmusik.

  • I tend to get stuck with earworms in other languages. I’ve found that chewing foreign gum while doing sudoku aloud in the voice of the Swedish chef helps. But I found this video exhausting because of the way they edited out the tiny pauses between sentences, making it in effect one long sentence. I got much more out of it the second time by occasionally pressing the pause button and leaving the room to scream.

    • TuuxKabin

      You’ve always got the answer.

  • seant426

    Why is this guy talking so fast? Caffeine crackhead?

    • 2guysnamedjoe

      Editing. The pauses between sentences have been edited out. For some reason.

      • seant426

        I get that. The edits are obvious. But even between them, he talks too fast.

  • Hryflex

    Whenever a show I’ve been in or directed closes, there is always a two week period when songs and even dialogue play and replay until rehearsals for the next show begin. Now I’ve got “bibit hera, bibit herus, bibit miles, bibit clerus” etc. waking me up in the middle of the night. But last week we went to a production of YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. I don’t know why, but after the curtain closed, the entire cast came out with instruments singing “I wanna singa about the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a”, so that liberated me from CARMINA BURANA until the next rehearsal. We’re seeing SWEENEY TODD tonight, so I wonder what will wake me up tomorrow morning.

  • Cuberly

    Ha! On tuesday I watched the bio-documentary about the Eagles on Netflix. Every day since I’ve had the dual guitar solo from Hotel California stuck in my head……and it’s still going on! ARGH! I must be weird cuz almost all my ear worms are instrumental.

    He’s right though, I associate The Eagles with a fun and very memorable period. Lazy afternoons hanging out at Boulder Reservoir, swimming out to the docks. Driving in the mountains with friends. All good times.

  • Rosalyn Williams

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  • MattPS

    Any active musician will tell you that he or she is constantly plagued with Earworms, depending on the music that’s being prepared or played that particular week. It’s just an ongoing thing with us, and can strike at the most inappropriate moments.