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News / May 6, 2015

Chewing gum may block out annoying ‘earworms’

by Guy Hiscott

Chewing gum could help turn off incessant ‘earworms’, a study has found.

Research found that people who chewed gum after hearing catchy songs were less likely to think about the song and reduced the amount they ‘heard’ the song in their heads by one third.

The results also revealed that chewing gum might help reduce other unwanted or ‘intrusive’ thoughts.

‘Earworms’ are catchy songs that repeat in your head – translated from the German word ‘ohrwurm’.

Dr Phil Beaman from the University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, led the study. He commented: ‘The majority of us experience [earworms] for only short periods – perhaps just a few minutes – but others can experience them for two or three days, which can be extremely frustrating and debilitating. We wanted to explore whether a simple act like chewing gum could help.

‘We invited 98 volunteers to take part in our study. After playing them the catchy tunes Play Hard by David Guetta and Payphone by Maroon 5, we asked them to try not to think of the songs they had just heard over the next three minutes but to hit a key each time they did.

‘In the chewing gum condition, volunteers reported thinking of and “hearing” the songs less often than in no-activity and finger-tapping control conditions.’

In a 2009 study the University of Reading demonstrated that virtually any song can become an earworm.

Dr Beaman continued: ‘It’s possible that popular songs are particularly difficult to suppress. Our previous research found that people only spontaneously report earworms of songs that they know well – we hope to examine this further in future studies.’

The study ‘Want to block earworms from conscious awareness? B(u)y gum!’ was published in Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.