(In and) Out of My Mind- Part 2


After writing (In and) Out of My Mind- Part 1, I began thinking more and more about the earworm phenomenon and Kraemer's findings. That's when I remembered something that I learned about last year in my PSYCH 100 class called Gestalt psychology.


Gestalt psychology deals with visual perception and how the human mind tends to complete patterns of visual stimuli even though they may not be whole. In other words, when the brain receives bits of disconnected information, it automatically tries to consolidate it into a form that is more usable. For example, when a person sees a dotted outline of an image, often they can still tell what that image is because their brain fills in the spaces. This seems like it is very similar to how the auditory cortex behaved in Kraemer's experiment. When songs that that the subjects were familiar with were played and then muted for 2-5 seconds, their brains seemed to fill the gap, effectively "completing the pattern" of auditory stimuli. In my research, I still haven't been able to find a direct biological mechanism for why this happens, but I find the connection fascinating.


In my opinion, there are probably multiple triggers for the earworm response, but it seems to me that it is unpreventable given the amount of information scientists currently have and uncontrollable. All in all, a song getting stuck in your head may be a nuisance but it is ultimately harmless.


Now, what if you have a song stuck in your head already and want to get it out?


Many people that I've asked believe that the best way to do this is simple; listen to another song. However, when I tried this, the new song would sometimes get stuck in my head and I'd be left with the same problem.


Ira Hyman, a professor of psychology at Western Washington University, came up with a different solution. She "surveyed 299 students, playing songs by Lady Gaga, Carly Rae Jepsen, Beyoncé, the Beatles, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. The students rated the songs [based on personal preference], then completed puzzle tasks [of different difficulties], reporting back immediately after the puzzles, and then again 24 hours later on whether the song had returned." After all the participants' responses were in, Hyman concluded that, "The return of intrusive songs depended on cognitive resources: people reported that intrusive songs returned during low cognitive load activities, and we found that overloading the cognitive systems with challenging activities increased intrusive song frequency." Following this logic, the best way to get a song out of your head is to do a puzzle that is neither too easy nor too difficult. In the study, 5 letter anagram puzzles fit this definition best. However, assuming the findings are accurate, I'm guessing that the best activity for each person varies based on their intelligence level.



Of course, Hyman's study is observational and must be treated as such. Unlike the Kraemer study that I addressed, Hyman never took quantitative measurements of the subjects' brain activity during and after listening to the songs. His results were based entirely on what songs the participants reported as getting stuck in their heads. This means that the results could have been subject to both interviewer and participant bias. Possible interviewer bias might be that Hyman somehow intentionally or unintentionally influenced the responses of the subjects. On the other hand, the participants in the study could have answered the survey questions about which song stuck around based on what they believed should have happened.


As a result, I don't put much faith into the accuracy of Hyman's findings, but I find no harm in seeing if they work for me. I already have some puzzle games on my phone, so it'd be pretty easy to try them out next time a song gets stuck in my head. After all, I'd do just about anything to get "Call Me Maybe" out of my brain.



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