How to Unstick the Song in Your Head

So, now that you’re infected with the dulcet tones of the Baha Men, how do you get rid of that earworm? Well, the answer might be as simple as chewing gum.

A recent (and pretty cool) little study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology made the surprising finding, all because one of the researchers read an online tip suggesting that earworms could be defeated by chewing cinnamon sticks. Thinking that interrupting “articulatory motor programming”, which just mean disrupting the motor skills involved in speech.

To test their theory, the researchers did three experiments. In the first, they had participants listen to “Play Hard” by David Guetta (we didn’t link it because we’re not cruel), who then reported whenever they thought about the song. Some participants were allowed to chew gum.

In the second experiment, they did the same thing but had to report when they thought of the song and when they actually heard the music in their heads.

In both experiments, chewing gum could significantly decrease the amount of time the participants thought of or actually heard the earworm.

Researchers wanted to know if engaging in motor activity of any kind could stop the ear worms, so for the third experiment, they had participants listen to “Payphone” by Maroon 5, which is technically a war crime, and had one group chew gum and the other tap their fingers. The finger tapping did help fight the earworms a bit, but significantly less than gum chewing.

The takeaway here is pretty clear: the next time you’re stuck humming Chumbawamba and desperate for a solution that doesn’t involve mass killings, chew gum instead.


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