Why you can’t get that stupid song out of your fucking head

Why you can’t get that stupid song out of your fucking head

MusicSeptember 28, 2016 By Brian Frederick

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It's another one of Rihanna's most intrusive songs, and now it's stuck in your head for the rest of the day, possibly even the remainder of the week ...

So how does it get there, and more importantly, how do you make it stop?

The repetitive internal songs, called earworms, are what scientists more intelligently label involuntary musical imagery (INMI). It’s a memory recall that likes to stick around in our subconscious until it feels like ruining the rest of the day. Over 90 percent of the Western population experience this phenomenon on a weekly basis, yet the understanding of it is still a mystery to many smart people still trying to figure it all out.

What we do know from past studies is that your internal DJ cues up songs during times of low cognitive load, or when you’re floating through mundane tasks that require little brain power. Think of them like “sonic screen savers,” says Dr. Lauren Stewart, founder of the master’s program in music, mind and brain at Goldsmiths, University of London.

She and her various teams have studied these things in a variety of ways. What they’ve found is that most always, involuntary music inside of one’s head is never a full song, rather, snippets of a catchy chorus or repetitive verse — a reason why pop is so popular.

And while they may seem completely random, Stewart suggests that isn’t likely the case. When people reported independently about the recurrence of INMI, the songs were often ones on heavy rotation at the time. Likewise, when someone was energized or feeling lifted — or were experiencing any other emotional cues — the song matched the mood.

So if you can’t get Adele’s “Hello” out of your noggin right now, you might have some serious emotional shit to tend to. Then again, don’t we all (maybe why it was one of the biggest songs of all time)?

But a variety of things can spark up an unwanted internal mashup too, like words, images or memory associations that have something to do with a song — even if you aren’t entirely aware of it. During one of the studies performed by Dr. Stewart, Michael Jackson’s physician was at the same time on trial in the United States. Participants reported MJ’s songs coming to the forefront of their thoughts more often than not. It’s internal puzzle solving and linking without you knowing it.

Others suggest that pervasive and inescapable events of INMI are linked to OCD, though attempts to cure it with ‘obsessive’ linked medication have so far failed. Symptoms can be similar, but aren’t yet linked as a likely culprit of why it happens.

What’s most interesting in this whole thing is music’s affect on Alzheimer’s patients, who have seemingly lost all sense of reality until a familiar song is played for them — then it’s like they never left their own mind. Music therapy has proven to be a win for people who suffer with dementia or severe memory loss.

Back when an emotional 2012 video went viral, a man featured in it named Henry brought music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients to the forefront, signifying to everyone else that music plays a much larger part on our memories than most of us ever knew. Previous studies before the video also show that playing popular songs from when patients were younger aid in the recollection of past experiences.

Patients are also more alert and happier, far more so than when nursing homes don’t play any music at all. Which is why it's an effort used to, at the very least, provide patients with a more comfortable existence.

So we know the interconnectivity of music and memory is there, we just aren’t sure to what capacity right now. Doctors like Lauren Stewart and others continue to uncover what it is that makes the two so reliant on one another, and what function notes in succession play in this crazy thing we call life.

And if you’re ever stuck in the misery of a song completely stuck in your head for what seems like an eternity, experts suggest to play the track in its entirety to help the brain complete a missing loop that it’s after. Others claim to chew gum to take your mind off of it, or to do exhaustive tasks that require extra effort.

Or you can just give in to the music gods while you repent for forgiveness. Because, let’s be honest, hearing “Dark Horse” fifteen-hundred times isn’t all bad. 

We're powerless, accept it.