This is how to get a song out of your head, according to science
If you have a song stuck in your head right now, and you’re starting to get mighty sick of it, science has officially figured out a very simple way to get it to stop: chew some gum.
According to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers at the University of Reading have found that disrupting “articulatory motor planning” (aka the motor skills necessary to speak) has a direct affect on “involuntary musical recollection” (aka the song stuck in your head right now). Inspired by an anonymous commenter who “found chewing on a cinnamon stick an effective counter” to a catchy tune, the team conducted a set of three experiments which ultimately found that gum might just be the solution to even the worst of earworms. (Full disclosure, ELMA sugar-free mastic gum was used for its “solid texture and mild flavor” in the study — so results may vary based on your gum of choice.)
For the first experiment, participants were split into “gum” and “no gum” groups, and played 30 seconds of the song “Play Hard” by David Guetta featuring Flo Rida and Akon (which has over 333 million views on YouTube), in order to ensure they were familiar. The participants were then asked to report any time they thought about the song over the next six minutes, first while actively trying to suppress it from their memory and then when told they could “think freely” about anything they’d like. The second experiment was essentially the same, except that participants had to report both when they thought of the song and when they actually “heard” it playing in their heads.
And both experiments proved that chewing gum made a marked difference in song recall (whether thinking of the song or hearing it in their heads), supporting the researchers’ original theory about disrupting “articulatory motor planning.”
But in order to prove that not just any motor skill disruption has the same effect as chewing gum, the researchers conducted a third experiment. This time, participants were divided into three groups — gum chewing, finger tapping, and neither — and played two minutes of “Payphone” by Maroon 5 (203 million views on YouTube). The conditions were essentially the same as Experiment 1 (except slightly shorter), and participants were asked to report whenever they thought of the song again. While they found that tapping fingers did help fight earworms a little bit, it ultimately wasn’t nearly as effective as chewing gum.
So there you have it: the solution to having a song stuck in your head is much easier than you’d think. Perhaps worth noting, participants in the experiment were told to chew the gum “vigorously,” so you may have to put in a little extra work to get that earworm out — but we think it’s probably worth it.
(Image via Gotye.)