Lady Gaga vs. Sudoku (Credit: Getty Images)
You try passing it on to someone or replacing it with a different song, but it just doesn't work. These so-called musical ‘earworms’ burrow into your brain and refuse to get out, running on a seemingly endless loop.
Leave it to science to come up with a solution. The best way to get rid of an earworm, it turns out, is to solve a puzzle.
Bejeweled. Sudoku. Anagrams. It really doesn't matter which, as a recent scientific study of the irritating phenomenon found that puzzle games are the most effective way to rid your mind of earworms.
"The return of intrusive songs depended on cognitive resources: people reported that intrusive songs returned during low cognitive load activities, and we found that overloading the cognitive systems with challenging activities increased intrusive song frequency," wrote Dr. Ira Hyman of Western Washington University.
Put another way: If your brain isn't occupied, it's much more susceptible to focusing on repetitive songs else (like, say, Mah Nah Mah Nah). On the other hand, if you're especially stressed and your brain is too busy, you're never going to give up that blasted Rick Astley jam.
Puzzles, particularly those that focus on five-letter anagrams, help the brain find the perfect balance and let you forget that song you can't get out of your mind. Researchers also recommend reading a good novel.
“The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,” said Dr. Hyman. “If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head."
The science isn't pretty, by the way. Nearly 300 students were part of Hyman's test, each being subjected to an untold number of songs from Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, The Beatles, Beyonce and more. From there, they'd complete puzzle tasks, then report immediately after finishing the puzzles on whether the songs were still stuck in their heads. They’d then report back again 24 hours later.
For the record, Lady Gaga's songs -- specifically, Alejandro and Bad Romance -- had the most staying power.
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