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Is the Earworm Effect Real?

based on 34 ratings
Author: Barry Eitel

Grade Level: 9th to 12th; Type: Social Science

Objective:

This experiment will explore the existence of earworms, songs that get stuck in your head.

Research Questions:

  • Are certain songs more apt to get stuck in someone’s head than others?
  • How long does the earworm stick around?

Everyone is familiar with the idea that some songs “get stuck in your head.” This experiment attempts to find some validity to that claim.

Materials:

  • 40 volunteers
  • Private room
  • Three different songs, preferably of wildly varied genres, like Classical and hard rock
  • Music player
  • Surveys

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Create a survey to hand out to your volunteers. The survey should list specific times (15 minutes after the test, 30 minutes after, an hour, three hours, 10 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, and 48 hours) and ask what song, if any, is stuck in the volunteer’s head at each time.
  2. Note down specifics of the songs you choose, including artist, genre, and length. Time signature, beats per minute, and key would be very useful information, too.
  3. Bring the volunteers into the room. Record their age and gender.
  4. Play one of the songs for the volunteers at a volume that is loud, but not overpowering.
  5. Replay that song three times.
  6. Repeat steps 4-5 for the other two songs.
  7. Hand out the surveys to the volunteers and instruct them to fill in the information at the proper times. Remind them that they should write down any song that is stuck in their head at the time, even if you didn’t play it. They can also write that no song is stuck in their head at that moment.
  8. Collect the surveys after two days.
  9. Analyze this data. What song was the most persistent earworm? Is there a correlation between the catchiest songs and their musical make-up (time signature, tempo, etc.)? How long did it take for the earworm to go away? Does age or gender seem to be a factor? Was one song you played replaced by another? Did an outside song overcome the songs you played?

Terms/Concepts: earworm, group psychology, social science, sound and the brain

References: Some great information on earworms: http://www.exploratorium.edu/music/questions/earworm.html

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