Don’t know if this is sheer coincidence, but apparently I wasn’t the only one who decided to write about earworms. I’m guessing everyone’s thoughts were triggered by Sherman’s death. One of my favorite bloggers, Andrew Sullivan, highlighted two of the better posts here.
The first link that Sullivan posted was to a BBC article on a music psychologist, Dr. Vicky Williamson, who through her website, earwormery, has surveyed people to try to find what may trigger earworms to run through our brains. The article also cites Daniel Levitin, an expert on the neuroscience of music, who posits that before the advent of written language, early humans remembered important information by combining words with song, and so people who were prone to earworms were evolutionarily selected. I think that, combined with Jeff’s anthro-bio ideas about the sounds of nature in his comment to my post, makes an intriguing theory.
The second link was to an article at MSNBC, which highlighted a recent publication by Dr. Williamson (same one from the first link), and goes into more detail about the four triggers she pulled from her surveys.
– music exposure, either recently hearing a tune or repeatedly hearing it.
– memory triggers, meaning that seeing a particular person or word, hearing a specific beat, or being in a certain situation reminds you of a song.
– your emotional frame of mind, or “affective states.” Feeling stressed, surprised or happy when you hear a song may make it stick in your head.
– “low attention states.” A wandering mind, whether from daydreaming or dreams at night, can set off this involuntary musical imagery.
I wonder if the recent press on the subject will inspire fMRI researchers to look more closely at this phenomenon, as the publication I concluded my post with wasn’t actually designed to study earworms, but rather, had suggestive data about the phenomenon.