Whether you call it an “earworm” or just say that you’ve got a song stuck in your head, new research shows there’s a way to combat this phenomenon, and it’s as simple as chewing a piece of gum.
Researchers have long studied the way songs get stuck in people’s heads. It’s so common that up to 90 percent of people experience it at least once a week, and it can happen for just a few minutes or for up to days at a time. Given how easily our brains take in songs and how accurately our brains can play them back, this has raised the possibility of somehow using this information to change how we take in other information.
Some researchers believe this could influence how we learn, and our ability to recall information. There have already been many attempts to help humans learn faster and more accurately, and this type of research could soon join the rest.
But if you’re not a researcher, you probably just want to make it stop — especially because just about any song can get stuck in your head.
Chewing a piece of gum has a surprising effect on how we retain the song we’ve been listening to and how often we hear it in our heads. The experiment had participants listen to multiple songs for a few minutes, then press a button on the table in front of them whenever they heard the song in their head. Some chewed gum while others did not.
The results showed that people chewing gum heard the music in their head one third less often than those who didn’t chew gum.
The reason this works is because certain parts of our brain that are responsible for memory and hearing are also responsible for speech. In essence, when you chew gum, you make it a little more difficult for your brain to work on retaining the song you’re hearing, as well as its ability to replicate it. Psychologist Dr. Phil Beaman spoke to the Huffington Post about how it works.
“Brain regions involved in hearing, remembering and imagining tunes include not only the auditory cortex but also regions more usually associated with speech production. By forcing these regions to be active in chewing the gum, they were less available to support the involuntary generation or recollection of an earworm.”
While this little tidbit is useful for those suffering from an earworm, the possibilities of this research go even farther. Because of the way that chewing gum influences the way we replay music in our heads when we don’t particularly want it to, there’s a chance that research like this could be used to influence the presence of other types of intrusive thoughts.
“Interfering with our own ‘inner speech’ through a more sophisticated version of the gum-chewing approach may work more widely. However, more research is needed to see whether this will help counter symptoms of obsessive-compulsive and similar disorders,” Beaman said.
[Photo by Viktor Hanacek/picjumbo]