An Infestation of 'Ear Worms'

Oct. 14, 2015

They are called "ear worms," and a team of researchers at the University of Arizona is investigating what makes them stick.

We've all experienced it: a tune stuck in our head that we just can't seem to shake. Maybe it's a catchy commercial jingle, or that last Top 40 hit you heard on the radio.

Dan Kruse, Andrew Lotto and Dan Traut launched the Arizona Ear Worm Project in an effort to better understand the ear worm phenomenon, using a combination of cognitive science, music theory and people's reported experiences with such "sticky" songs. The project received grant funding from the UA's Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, which supports interdisciplinary projects across campus.
Kruse is a radio announcer for Arizona Public Media and has a degree in ethnomusicology from the UA. Lotto is an associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences and also psychology and linguistics. Traut is an associate professor of theory, Daveen Fox Endowed Chair for Music Studies, and head of the composition, musicology and theory area in the UA's Fred Fox School of Music.
The three of them shared some of their early findings on ear worms during the first lecture in the Confluencenter's 2015 "Show & Tell @ Playground" series in downtown Tucson.