If “Call Me Maybe” has been stuck in your head for the past few days — and trust me, you’re not alone — science can explain the phenomenon from which you are suffering, referred to colloquially on the internet as an “earworm.”
Earworms, or songs that are incredibly sticky on the inside of your head, seem to be unique in that the same ones affect a great many people. Just last week, I was out with a group of friends when “Call Me Maybe” began playing in a bar, and people remarked that they did not like the song, but that it was “catchy,” or that there was something generally about it that made it difficult to stop humming.
I probably don’t have to tell you that.
Interestingly, earworms affect nearly 98% of the population, and seem to be more persistent in and annoying to women, though experienced equally by both genders. And even more intriguingly, sufferers of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more troubled by earworms than non-sufferers, which kind of makes sense.
According to researcher Lassi A. Liikkanen, who spoke to MSNBC, the phenomenon could be tied to memory or our brain’s processes for learning.
Liikkanen is the author of not one, but two studies on earworms published in the journals Psychology of Music and Musicae Scientiae, and he says:
“Involuntary imagery of music is based on our skill to remember music, but for some reason feels out of control. But is perfectly normal… Some times these involuntary music experiences are tied to a life experience and it is congruent with mood. Even if you haven’t heard a song for weeks, months, decades [hearing the song sparks] a key memory.”
Another tidbit is that researchers think women are more prone to earworm annoyance because they’re more easily triggered by emotional moments.