Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

January 4, 2013

On earworms

By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

— “Moonstruck,” the Cher/Nic Cage movie, came out in 1987 and since then the song “Amore,” has played in my head with frightening regularity.

If I’m working, driving, or walking the dogs, the music will start playing quietly just behind my right ear and then before I know it I’m whistling aloud.

I have no idea what my co-workers think about this. It drives me bananas.

One term for these songs is “earworms,” but I’ve heard other, less complimentary terms, also. Christmas is awful for these songs. “Silver Bells,” and “White Christmas” and “Santa’s Coming to Town,” are those kinds of songs. I’m convinced the reason people hate the commercialism of Christmas has as much to do with the sheer pervasiveness of canned Christmas music as with the tackiness of tinsel and dogs dressed as “Santa Claws.”

Recently a researcher looked into the phenomenon and declared that I’m normal. OK, not me, per se, since I’m pretty sure that my attempts at faking normalcy aren’t fooling anyone, but that thing where songs in your head play over and over? That’s normal.

Ira Hyman, a professor at Western Washington University, studied “earworms,” and other intrusive thoughts and published his findings in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. I must have missed that issue, but fortunately it was also on NBCnews.com, which simplified it enough for me to understand even with a ‘50s crooner singing about “pizza pies,” in my head.

Unfortunately, it’s not the ground-breaking stuff that’s going to win anyone a Nobel. For example, Hyman concluded that earworms are songs that we already like, or that are popular. Also, earworms don’t go away, they just lay dormant waiting for a trigger to set them off again. For me, that could be a glimpse of Cher, Nic Cage, Olympia Dukakis, the New York skyline, the opera, the sound of Dean Martin’s voice, or being awake.

Hyman also says they occur when the brain is either not busy at all or very busy, like a hyperactive child that waits until Mom is either trying to relax or do her taxes to smear Crisco on the dog. I can confirm this. In my case, I hear “Amore,” when I’m bored or happily engrossed in a project. However, if I’m really stressed, Dean-O and the entire zombie Rat Pack could show up to serenade me and I’d only growl at them.

To make earworms go away, Hyman says to distract your brain with a book, video game, sports or listen to a different song.

I don’t advise certain Cher films.

           —————

Janet Jacobs is City Editor of the Daily Sun. Her column appears on Saturdays. She may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com