WWU researchers say musical 'ear worms' triggered by environmental cues

WWU researchers say musical 'ear worms' triggered by environmental cues

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 31, 2012 at 3:34 PM

Updated Monday, Dec 31 at 4:52 PM

Ever wonder why certain songs get stuck in your head?

A psychology professor at Western Washington University has found that it's the songs people know and like that most often become intrusive.
  
Professor Ira Hyman found that the intrusive songs, or "earworms," often are triggered by environmental cues, such as hearing words that remind us of the song's lyrics, and were most likely heard recently.

Hyman found that if a song continues to play in someone’s head immediately after he or she stops listening to it, the song is likely to disappear but then return within 24 hours.

“It’s interesting how these songs can go away but then keep coming back,” Hyman said.

Hyman’s research shows that snippets of songs are most likely to get stuck in our heads – and to return repetitively – both during periods of low cognitive load (when walking, for example) and during periods of high cognitive load, such as when doing schoolwork. But during periods requiring more complete cognitive engagement, songs are less likely to return, Hyman found.

Based on his study, Hyman found that our minds tend to wander both when we’re engaged in easy, automatic tasks and when we’re stressed, engaged in challenging work or reading difficult passages.

Hyman and his team have found that earworm cycles are easy to start and to manipulate. By investigating intrusive songs, Hyman thinks he can learn a lot about why intrusive thoughts occur and how to control intrusive thought cycles.

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