Mind if I borrow your ear(worm)s?
OK, quick: When I say the words “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” what immediately comes to mind?
(A) You lost me already. I’m moving on to the obituaries.
(B) That’s a funny name for a bullfrog.
(C) “He was a good friend of mine.”
If you answered “C” you may be prone to earworm disease.
Earworm is the scientific word for what happens when a song gets stuck in your mind. Like, say, for example, “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I’ve gone months with this song occupying my brain. I’m sure I’ve driven through red lights because the part of my brain that says “stop at a red light” was overtaken by the part that sang, “Woof, Woof, Woof Woof.” Trust me: You do NOT want “Who Let the Dogs Out” stuck in your mind all day, so please try not to think about it for the rest of the day and into the evening. Thank you.
This “earworm” business is based on a phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect, which states that the human brain has a basic, universal need to complete something that “was once pursued but left incomplete,” a psychological trait discovered by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, who obviously had never seen my home improvement projects.
The premise is that when the mind is not using all of its cognitive resources, it’s vulnerable to the re-emergence of previous, unfinished rhythms. It’s sort of like the conscious brain is playing a mean-spirited prank:
CONSCIOUS: Hey, whatcha doing?
BRAIN: Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
CONSCIOUS: Remember that song you heard on the radio earlier?
BRAIN: Please don’t.
CONSCIOUS: How did it go? “Oh, I just met you ...”
BRAIN: Focus. Knife. Peanut butter. On bread.
CONSCIOUS: “And this is crazy ...”
BRAIN: I’m ignoring you.
CONSCIOUS: “So here’s my number ...”
BRAIN: “So call me maybe!”
And that’s how you end up getting caught by your spouse singing to yourself. In the kitchen. To a Carly Rae Jepsen song. Wearing nothing but a feather boa. (Maybe that last part is just me.)
Earworms seem to only affect the most annoying songs, like Taylor Swift’s “Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
I realize that whenever some guy dumps Taylor Swift, she writes another hit and makes $20 million, but something needs to be done about this song.
And here I’m thinking along the lines of a U.N. resolution condemning it, or a drone strike on her recording studio.
It’s almost as bad as children’s song earworms. Like this one: “If you like to talk to tomatoes ...”
Already, some of you are finishing it: “If a squash can make you smile.”
If this tune doesn’t ring a bell with you, please consider participating with me in experimental brain transplant surgery. It’s the opening song to “Veggie Tales,” a Christian-based cartoon series where vegetables have eyes and mouths and sing ridiculously annoying songs that make you wish you were an atheist.
Fortunately there are ways to kill the earworm. Scientists say the best way is to pour chemical-based pesticides down your ear cavity.
No, just kidding. That’s how you get rid of earwax. To get rid of earworms, researchers at Western Washington University say you should engage the mind in challenging tasks, such as a Sodoku puzzle.
A word on that: My dad does The Daily Sentinel Sodoku puzzle every morning. One day I figured I’d do the puzzle for kicks. “This shouldn’t be too hard,” I thought. Yet after an aggravating, eraser-breaking, maddening 10 minutes of Sudoku, I now understand why some people use sharp instruments to try to hurt themselves.
So that didn’t work, but fortunately there are plenty of other earworm cures. In fact, researchers have compiled a list of mental challenges to help get that annoying song out of your mind. I’ll be happy to share it with you if you’re interested.
So call me maybe.
Reach Steve at beauregardsteve@ hotmail.com.