Earworm, a loan translation of the German Ohrwurm,[1] is a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as "music being stuck in one's head."

Use of the English translation was popularized by James Kellaris, a marketing researcher at the University of Cincinnati, and American cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin. Kellaris' studies demonstrated that different people have varying susceptibilities to earworms, but that almost everybody has been afflicted with one at some time or another.[2]


Other terms

The psychoanalyst Theodor Reik used the term haunting melody to describe the psychodynamic features of the phenomenon.[3] The term Musical Imagery Repetition (MIR) was suggested by neuroscientist and pianist Sean Bennett in 2003 in a scientifically researched profile of the phenomenon.[4] Another scientific term for the phenomenon, involuntary musical imagery, or INMI, was suggested by the neurologist Oliver Sacks in 2007.[5]

The Official Earworm Synonym List includes alternative terms such as "music meme", "humsickness", "repetunitis", "headsong",[6] "obsessive musical thought", "music virus", and "tune wedgy."[7]

"Last Song Syndrome" (also known as LSS) is most widely known as a Filipino term.

Scientific research

According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms. Women and men experience the phenomenon equally often, but earworms are more likely to last longer for women and to irritate women more than they irritate men.[8]

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more likely to report being troubled by ear worms – in some cases, medications for OCD can minimize the effects.[9]

In popular culture

Mark Twain's 1876 story "A Literary Nightmare" (also known as "Punch, Brothers, Punch") is about an earworm which you can get rid of only by transferring it to another person.

In Alfred Bester's 1953 novel, "The Demolished Man", the protagonist uses a jingle specifically crafted to be a catchy, irritating nuisance as a tool to block mind readers from reading his mind.

In Arthur C. Clarke's 1956 science fiction short story, "The Ultimate Melody", a scientist, Gilbert Lister, develops the ultimate melody - one that so compels the brain that its listener becomes completely and forever enraptured by it. As the storyteller, Harry Purvis, explains, Lister theorized that a great melody "made its impression on the mind because it fitted in with the fundamental electrical rhythms going on in the brain". Lister attempts to abstract from the hit tunes of the day to a melody which fits in so well with the electrical rhythms that it dominates them completely. He succeeds, and is found in a catatonia from which he never awakens.[10]

In Fritz Leiber's Hugo Award-nominated short story "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee" (1959), the title describes an earworm so powerful that it rapidly spreads to, and takes over, all areas of human culture, until a counter-rhythm is developed which acts as an antidote.

In an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob has a song stuck in his head that interrupts his day until Sandy Cheeks tries to find a way to get the worm out of his head. Sandy says "someone with musical talent" can cure him (in this case, Squidward). Squidward starts playing his clarinet. The earworm gets annoyed and leaves. Squidward is then shown in bed, praising himself. The earworm comes and goes into Squidward, and now Squidward has the earworm (with his song, not Spongebob's).

In language learning

Earworm-type music is sometimes used in language learning to help memory retention on foreign words.[citation needed]

See also


External links

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