Sticky Tunes: When Songs Become Earworms
  • The songs that get stuck in our heads, those catchy but often annoying earworms are common, especially the Christmas melodies during the holiday season.
  • New research into these tunes stuck in the brain shows that they are conventional melodies (often instrumental) but have an unexpected repetition/loop, and can even impair our concentration.
  • During the Christmas season, melodic holiday songs play in public places like bars and cafes and are often heard on the radio, leading to a more than usual exposure. These songs have a certain melody that is ‘scrunchy’ and forms a familiar chord known as the Christmas chord, making them prone to become earworms.

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Christmas earworms: the science behind our love-hate relationship with festive songs

theconversation.com

  • White Christmas by Irving Berlin is the best selling single of all time and is studied on why it is popular for decades, and sold over 50 million copies. It seems to fall into the category of a likeable earworm.
  • Most songs follow a U-shaped curve of liking. New music isn’t liked very much, but as it gets familiar and is heard repetitively (on the radio and in the mall), one tends to like it more.
  • This repetition effect is U-shaped as too much exposure diminishes the fondness towards the song.

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  • The reason we like the Christmas songs every year lies in the U-shaped curve of liking being a cycle.
  • A person, after getting fed up from a song, starts to move away from it, but after a span of time, is again exposed to the same song, tends to like it as before (for a while). This is called the ‘Squirrel’ approach to listening.
  • It is also the reason many CDs of old bands which we dumped, sound great when we hear them after a long time.

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