Earworms – Anomaly of Fibromyalgia?


Earworms can be annoying!

Earworms are really annoying!

Today, it’s a Thomas the Train , another day, it’s Caillou! Whatever song was the last one I heard, it may be with me until the next one comes along.

So my question is…are Earworms another anomaly of Fibromyalgia or just a busy brain?

An earworm is a piece of music that sticks in one’s mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played. Earworms have also been known as “stuck-song syndrome”, “sticky music” and “cognitive itch”.

Most of us get music stuck in our heads

It appears the majority of the population have a song in their head, not just people living with Fibromyalgia.

Dr. Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist at Goldsmiths University, London, says that the most likely songs to get stuck are those that are easy to hum along to or sing but are often unique to the individual.

She has identified a number of events that can trigger these songs to intrude on our everyday lives, including repeated exposure to a piece of music, recent exposure to the music, seeing lyrics from the song, moments of stress and allowing our mind to wander.  She says that 90% of people get a tune stuck in their head at least once a week!

Williamson noted that people were telling her about magic songs that they sing to get rid of the earworm, or strategies like going for a run or doing a crossword puzzle seemed to help. Substituting a tune with another one? How does that work?

Earworms tend to happen when people are in a positive emotional state and participating in non-intellectual activities, like walking, researchers say.

Simple Repeating Loop of Music

Daniel Levitin, a psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, says “The songs that get stuck in people’s heads tend to be melodically and rhythmically simple. It’s usually just a segment of the song, not the entire thing from beginning to end. What we think is going on is that the neural circuits get stuck in a repeating loop and they play this thing over and over again”. That would explain why I am now “hearing” Elmo!

Levitin says that in rare cases earworms can be detrimental to people’s functioning because of the songs that won’t leave their heads! They may need to take the same medication given to people living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, drugs that relax the neural circuits that are stuck in an infinite loop.

Anagrams to combat Earworms

Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University conducted tests on volunteers by playing them popular songs in an attempt to find out how tunes can become stuck in long term memory.



They then tested whether performing puzzles such as Sudoku or anagrams would help to reduce the recurrence of earworms. They discovered if the Sudoku puzzles were too difficult, they had little effect. Anagrams were more successful and they found that solving those with five letters gave the best results.

“Verbal tasks like solving anagrams  (a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase) or reading a good novel seem to be very good at keeping earworms out, “ said Dr. Hyman.

He hopes to examine whether similar techniques could be used to prevent other intrusive thoughts caused by anxiety or obsessiveness. “Choruses tend to get stuck in your head because they are the bit we know best and because we don’t know the second or third verse, the song remains unfinished and more likely to return.”

Research has shown that fighting the Earworms just make them stronger. For most of us, they are just a nuisance.  Just put your energies into keeping yourself well:  a nutrient-rich diet which includes whole foods, exercise and restorative sleep.

So, the question is, how long after my grandson is out of the Elmo, Caillou and Thomas the Train stage do the Earworms linger?  That’s what I’d like to know!

And so, the music continues….

Today, besides being an active grandmother, I am a volunteer with several community organizations, and love spreading the word of an amazing super food.

You may read about my journey of living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, with it’s many challenges,by clicking  here.


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