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I Can’t Get That Song Out Of My Head!

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Is there anything worse than having a song — especially a song you aren’t particularly fond of — stuck in your head? Despite best efforts, it’s seemingly impossible to get a catchy tune, sometimes known as an “earworm,” to stop playing in your brain. Ninety-eight percent of the population is subject to this annoying phenomenon, though earworms last longer in women and annoy them more. Musicians and those with OCD are more likely to be attacked by earworms. The duration of an earworm is restricted to auditory short-term memory limits, which range from 15 to 30 seconds in most people.

Fortunately, a music psychologist at Western Washington University seems to have come up with a solution to involuntary memory retrieval (that’s the technical term for an earworm). The key is to engage in a mental activity that is intense enough to use up your mental resources, preventing your brain from being able to involuntarily access memories. Solving difficult puzzles and anagrams can provide enough challenge according to research, as can other activities that absorb a good portion of your brain power.

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