|Rebecca Black on Good Morning America on March 18|
I laid there for an hour with the two second snippet "On Fri-i-d-ay, Fri-i-d-ay," repeating in my head over and over again. The song was officially an earworm, an infectious tune that replays in your head unbidden. It made me wonder, is there a scientific reason Rebecca Black's song was stuck in my head?
Turns out there is...
There isn't much research exploring earworms despite public awareness of the experience. Germans were the first to name the phenomenon ohrwurms (earworm is the literal translation) but the honor of the first documented occurrence goes to Mark Twain. The scant research that is available in peer reviewed journals does provide some hints as to why a song such as Friday would play nonstop in my head.
A handful of studies chock earworms up as a sort of "cognitive itch" that needs scratching. Professor Keith Duffy of Penn State, referencing a Dartmouth College study, said that "MRIs show that a catchy song makes the auditory part of the brain 'itch', and the only way the itch can be scratched is by listening to the song." Stuck Song Syndrome, published in a 2010 edition of the British Journal of Psychology states that Daniel Levitin's findings of neural circuits representing the song getting stuck on "playback mode" is consistent with recent MRI data as well. The studies behind Stuck Song Syndrome also found that no one type of song (jingle, theme, children's, pop, etc.) is more likely to cause an earworm. What isn't yet understood is why the brain experiences a cognitive itch.
|Dr. James Kellaris|
Do repetition, musical simplicity, and incongruity sound familiar? Black's song has all three of those qualities in spades. Repetition: not only does Black repeat a number of hooks throughout the song, I lost count trying to keep track of how many times she sings, "Friday." Musical simplicity: the more basic the melody is, the more likely it is to get stuck and, let's face it, this is no Mozart. Incongruity: this, above all else, is what Friday excels at. The lyrics are often awkwardly forced to fit the tune. Additionally, I don't know if it's a byproduct of the autotuning or simply the way she sings the song, but Black adds so many syllables pronouncing the word Friday now sounds strange when I say it with only two after having watched the video five times.
Rebecca Black's song Friday is extremely catchy. Now, I just keep my fingers crossed that listening to it so many times while I wrote this post hasn't worn a permanent path in my neural circuits.
Hmm, too bad it's Monday. I'm looking forward to the weekend. Fun, fun fun...
For more information, check out:
The British Journal of Psychology (2010) Earworms(‘stuck song syndrome’): Towards
a natural history of intrusive thoughts. Beaman, CP and Williams, TI
Research Penn State (2006) What makes a song catchy? Anuta, J.
Current Science (2005) Who let the earworms out? (Haunting musical tunes)