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Do you have an obnoxiously catchy song lyric stuck on repeat in your brain? New research suggests that the secret to getting rid of these “earworms” may be as simple as chewing a stick of gum.
According to a new study conducted by psychologists at the University of Reading in the U.K., chewing diverts attention away from the catchy melody or lyric.
Earworms happen to as many as 90 percent of people at least once a week, psychologist Vicky Williamson told NPR’s John Donvan in 2012. The University of Reading researchers said in a press release about their work that one study found 15 percent of people classify their earworms as “disturbing.”
The researchers, who published their work this month in the quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, said that learning how to reduce the occurrence of earworms may have implications for other types of intrusive thoughts, such as those that characterize psychological disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
For the experiment, researchers asked 98 study participants to listen to catchy songs like “Payphone” by Maroon 5 and “Play Hard” by David Guetta. For three minutes after listening to the song, the participants were asked to hit a button whenever the song popped back into their head. During the three-minute period, the participants chewed gum, tapped their finger on the table or did neither.
The researchers found that people who chewed gum after listening to the songs “heard” the song playing in their mind a third less often than those who were not chewing gum.
How does it work? Reading psychologist Dr. Phil Beaman explained that chewing gum co-opts some of the brain’s regions involved in earworms.
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