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Study examines how people deal with 'ear worms'

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A study published Friday in the scientific journal PLOS ONE analyzed how people deal with "involuntary musical imagery," commonly known as "ear worms."

According to the study's authors, the vast majority of people experience involuntary musical imagery, which they define as "perceptions of spontaneous, repetitive musical sound in the absence of an external source."

Previous studies have focused on how people feel about ear worms, with most finding them either neutral or pleasant and about one third finding them annoying or disturbing.

Scientists from universities in Finland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom looked at data from two existing surveys with a combined total of more than 1000 responses to determine what people do as a result of experiencing an ear worm. The most common answers to the question, "Have you ever done any of the following because of the music that is playing in your head?" were to talk, hum or sing out loud; try to figure out the name of the song; listen to the song; play other songs; or sing the ear worm song.

When asked how they generally tried to get rid of an ear worm, survey participants described a variety of methods of diverting their thoughts to something other than the sticky tune.

Not only do ear worms affect almost everyone at some point, but people often use some variation of the same strategy to deal with them. They either engage with the song by playing or singing it, or undertake some activity or thought pattern as a distraction from the music.


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