The Conqueror Ohrwurm

Vincent Avatar

You know…

When the sun shines
We’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever
Said I’ll always be your friend
Took an oath
I’mma stick it out ’till the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my Umbrella
You can stand under my Umbrella

It’s been raining Rihanna in my brain for over a week straight. I have listened to her song everyday at least three times a day. When I am not listening to it, “When the sun shines, We’ll shine together, Told you I’ll be here forever,” echoes in my head.

I haven’t had an “Ohrwurm” this bad since Britney Spears’ Oops I Did It Again. That is what it is called: An “Ohrwurm” (an “earworm”). Some how it is fitting that the same people who are credited with coining “masochism” are also credited with coining “Ohrwurm.”

Professor James Kellaris refers to it as a “cognitive itch.” He says that “certain songs have properties that are analogous to histamines that make our brain itch” and “the only way to scratch a cognitive itch is to repeat the offending melody in our minds.” His research has drawn the attention of both the advertising and music industries.

Among the characteristics that help turn a song into an Ohrwurm are repetition and simplicity. However, according to Professor Kellaris there is no sure formula for manufacturing an Ohrwurm. It’s like mating pandas in captivity, awkward to speak about and rarely accomplished.

To add to my frustration is the fact I never know the complete song. The chorus or a line from the song will repeat itself over and over in my head but never the whole song. Sometimes they aren’t even the right words! I copied the lyrics to Umbrella from I never learned all the words to Oops I Did it Again or To Sir With Love.

I have tried, thinking if I did that the Ohrwurm would go away. “Completion” is one of the cures that people offer. In the case of To Sir With Love, it made the situation worse because I knew more of the words.

Any song at any moment can erupt and mutate into an Ohrwurm. So is there a cure? Some recommend listening to the song that spawned the Ohrwurm all the way through. Others recommend trying to replace the Ohrwurm with another song. The College of Business at the University of Cincinnati has an “Earworms Research Center.” It contains research, stories, and a virtual clinic for Ohrwurm. None of the cures they offer are proven cures but they are an interesting distraction when trying to get that song out of your head.

Curing an Ohrwurm is almost as mysterious and difficult as manufacturing one.

Here’s Strategy #3:

3 responses

  1. Can A Song Save Your Life? | Cranial Gunk

    […] very large and very important role in my life — And it’s not just because I am prone to Ohrwurms (My latest being Neon Trees’ Everybody […]

  2. Wicked Little Earworm | Cranial Gunk

    […] am prone to earworms – Not the dog kind – But the kind that has a song you annoyingly don’t know all the words to […]

  3. Mnemonic Rocks « K2Twelve

    […] with straightforwardly stating the facts, whereas I used rhyme. I am very susceptible to ear worms – Not the kind your dog might get but the kind that you might get when you find yourself […]

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