Everyone experiences the phenomenon of a tune being “stuck” in one’s head. This is when an addictive song or piece of music seems to play over and over in someone’s mind even when they are desperately trying to forget it. The Germans call this phenomenon ohrwurm, which translates into “earworm”.
Having an earworm is not necessarily a pleasant thing, as the person with it may become irritated or agitated by the piece of music. It has been noted that the condition is much more common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), suggesting that earworms may be caused by the brain subconsciously obsessing over the piece of music.
Because it is so common and addictive, earworms are extensively used in marketing in the form of hooks – music designed to stick in people’s heads. By associating the hook with the marketed brand or product, people cannot stop thinking about it and this subconsciously affects their buying habits.
The concept of earworms is also popular in literature, where authors become creative and explore the “potential” of an earworm. For example, Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story titled The Ultimate Melody where a scientist invents a melody that compels the brain to become enraptured by it through synchronising with brainwave patterns. Interestingly, the scientist creates the melody simply to escape the barrage of pop music filled with hooks and catchy tunes. Ultimately, he is found catatonic as the melody completely takes over his mind.