Earworm: a catchy song or tune that runs continually through a person’s mind. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon. A random song just gets stuck in your head for what feels like an eternity and you don’t know why. Well, researchers believe that there is a reason why some songs stick in our heads and others don’t.
According to the APA (American Psychological Association), earworms are generally faster than other songs and possess a simplistic and easy to remember the melody. However, despite their simplicity, they do have leaps, tone inflections, and repetition that set earworms apart from other songs. This, of course, is part of their “stickiness”, if you will. They’re different enough to stand out but simple enough to be memorable.
Researchers found that most earworms possess a certain melodic contour that makes them so memorable. An example of this can be seen in the nursery rhyme “Twinkle Little Star”, funnily enough. According to researchers, this song possesses a rise in pitch in their first phrase and a fall in the second that is found in almost all other nursery rhymes, making them easier for children to remember. A similar phenomenon occurs in the opening riff in Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.”
In addition to a common melodic contour, there is another element that makes earworms so catchy: their unusual interval structure. As previously stated, earworms possess a level of uniqueness that separates them from other songs. Researchers proved that these differences, unexpected leaps, and repeated notes, while expected from the average pop song, are part of the reason that makes earworms memorable.
According to the researchers, the study of earworms can help scientists to better understand the human brain, specifically the functions that deal with memory, perception, emotions and spontaneous thought. Now, if only these researchers can discover a way to keep earworms from affecting us in the first place then we’d be golden.