Dissecting the Earworm Rah-rah, ah-ah-ah! Researchers may have figured out why certain songs, like Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit “Bad Romance,” get stuck in our heads more than others, according to a large-scale study of “earworms.” The research, led by Kelly Jakubowski, identifies key characteristics of catchy songs that differentiate them from other pop ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   February 01, 2017
Dissecting the Earworm
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Research Issues, Methods & Evidence-Based Practice / Professional Issues & Training / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   February 01, 2017
Dissecting the Earworm
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22022017.16
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 16. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB2.22022017.16
Rah-rah, ah-ah-ah! Researchers may have figured out why certain songs, like Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit “Bad Romance,” get stuck in our heads more than others, according to a large-scale study of “earworms.”
The research, led by Kelly Jakubowski, identifies key characteristics of catchy songs that differentiate them from other pop songs.
“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions, like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,’” says Jakubowski, who performed the study while at Goldsmiths, University of London, but who now works at Durham University. The article appears in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts.

The songs usually have to have some unusual components—like unexpected leaps or notes—such as in “My Sharona” by the Knack.

Surveying 3,000 people from 2010 to 2013 about their most frequent earworms and analyzing these songs in comparison to tracks that are rarely named as earworms, Jakubowski and her team found that earworms are most likely to be songs that use melodic shapes that are most commonly found in Western pop music (for example, the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”). But the songs also usually have to have some unusual components—like unexpected leaps or notes—such as in “My Sharona” by the Knack.
Some of the most-mentioned earworms in the study: “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey and “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye.
Previous research has suggested that chewing gum may help get an earworm out of your head.
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February 2017
Volume 22, Issue 2