Scientists study potential uses of musical “earworms,” including as memory aids

Posted on: July 21, 2021

“Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music all have playlists of ‘Baby Shark’ remixes,” writes Jeremy Reynolds in Sunday’s (7/18) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Would you walk 500 miles to get away from that tune? … Does it remind you of somebody that you used to know? … These so-called earworms … are annoying but useful [according to] new research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology…. ‘We can hear just a fragment of a piece of music and it can take us back. How does that happen?’ said Petr Janata, a researcher at the University of California, Davis…. Janata says earworms help your brain encode and parse daily memories and sensations…. These musical fragments became a kind of sorting mechanism that triggers clearer recall … Music therapists already use music’s ability to trigger a range of emotional states with their patients. According to Brittany Meyer, a neurologic music therapist, … ‘Repetition is really great for creating earworms…. And we know that music is great for both encoding and retrieving memories.’ … Janata is exploring … how the brain responds to musical stimuli and earworms using neural imaging technology. ‘Can this be deployed in a targeted way? … Could this serve as a memory aid?’ ”