Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sounds of frustration

I don’t listen to music at home or in the car. The only radio I play is the occasional WYSO (NPR) talk show broadcast. Rarely do I play CDs. I don’t own an iPod, other MP3 player, or smartphone. I love almost all kinds of music (opera and rap being the exceptions that come to mind), so why do I avoid it?

Because once my brain hears a song, it won’t let go. It clings to the melody, running it in a constant loop for days – and nights – on end until I want to scream. Even the Muzak in the grocery store or blaring from the speaker over the gas pump can be a culprit. The (often) inane lyrics drive every coherent thought from my mind, making it difficult to write or even think at times.

My wise hubby, knowing how much I enjoy live performances yet despair of not being able to endure the soundtrack after the fact, suggested a desensitization process: listen to music all day, every day, for a week on the assumption my brain would no longer find melodies so remarkable and therefore would have no overwhelming desire to cling to them. Nice try.

The songs simply form a battle of the bands in my head, fighting for supremacy and making the raucous replays even more unbearable.

Discovery Health calls them earworms: ‘When we listen to a song, it triggers a part of the brain called the auditory cortex. Researchers at Dartmouth University found that when they played part of a familiar song to research subjects, the participants' auditory cortex automatically filled in the rest -- in other words, their brains kept "singing" long after the song had ended. The only way to "scratch" brain itch is to repeat the song over and over in your mind. Unfortunately, like with mosquito bites, the more you scratch the more you itch, and so on until you're stuck in an unending song cycle.’ They quote University of Cincinnati Professor James Kellaris who claims ‘women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most prone to earworm attacks.’ Oh, good – so as a tired, stressed, neurotic (!) female, I’m doomed.

Kellaris advises getting rid of an earworm by:
1. Sing another song, or play another melody on an instrument.
2. Switch to an activity that keeps you busy, such as working out.
3. Listen to the song all the way through (this works for some people).
4. Turn on the radio or a CD to get your brain tuned in to another song.
5. Share the song with a friend (but don't be surprised if the person become an ex-friend when he or she walks away humming the tune).
6. Picture the earworm as a real creature crawling out of your head, and imagine stomping on it.

I’m rather partial to number six (none of the others work anyway), except the idea of an insect in my head recalls visions of Chekov’s misery in Star Trek: Wrath of Khan...not a good scene.

Even worse, I’ve found it’s not only music that sticks in my brain. Commercials, movies, television shows, even Windows Solitaire replays...my mind is like Velcro except for things like the story line I dreamt about last night, where I filed that document, or what I walked into the room to do.

Maybe if the earworms would leave, I’d have room for the important stuff. Anyone know a good exterminator?

1 comment:

  1. I am guilty of #3. I listen to the song all the way through and sing till my hearts content. Problem is, I sing off key and often it takes days to make it go away. Good luck finding an exterminator.


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