Maria Konnikova searches for a fix:
The ubiquity of modern music and the resulting proliferation of earworms raise [a] question…: How do you dislodge one? In a study that [researcher Lauren] Stewart and the psychologist Victoria Williamson just published in the journal PLoS ONE, they examined thousands of survey responses to see what, if anything, was an especially effective method. While people’s strategies for ridding themselves of unwanted aural guests fell into one of two broad categories—distraction or coping—the most successful way to remove an earworm, they found, was to deal with it head on, by intentionally listening to the song or singing it out loud, no matter how embarrassing the song.
But it may be futile to try to resist completely, if Stewart is correct about why we get earworms in the first place. In ongoing research with a team of neuroscientists at the University of Western Ontario, she says, “we’re working with the hypothesis that people are getting earworms to either match or change their current state of arousal—or a combination of the two.” She adds, “Maybe you’re feeling sluggish but need to take your child to a dance class, so it could be that an earworm pops into your hear that’s very upbeat, to help you along. Or working in reverse, can earworms act to calm you down?” It would explain why we sometimes get earworms even when we haven’t been listening to music at all, or why people who spend a great deal of time in nature often report beginning to hear every sound—wind blowing, leaves rustling, water rippling—as music, which their brain spontaneously plays over and over. Just as important, it would help explain why our brains often seem to linger on music that we don’t particularly care for.