It was fun while it lasted. But please make it stop.
I’m not talking about the world champion Nats. As far as I’m concerned, fans should bask in the team’s victory and celebrate for as long as possible. I’m talking about the song “Baby Shark.”
I cannot get it out of my head. I’ll be in the shower or walking to work, find myself humming, and realize it’s this insidious earworm. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…
I figured I couldn’t be the only one. So I called Petr Janata, a professor of psychology at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain who studies the psychology and neuroscience of music, including how songs stuck in our heads help form memories. I asked if he had any tips on how to get this children’s ditty out of our brains.
The bad news? “There hasn’t been a scientifically established way to get an earworm out of your head,” he said. So much for all the advice you see online about chewing gum or doing Sudoku. Still, Janata had three basic tips:
1. Do something else that requires all your focus.
Earworms seep into the brain when we’re washing dishes or gardening or commuting because those are rote tasks you can do in your sleep—leaving space in your brain for other things. So, Janata advises, “Do something so attention-demanding that it essentially sucks up that reserve capacity and doesn’t allow for the earworms to happen.” In other words, something that does not allow for multitasking—for example, assembling a complicated piece of furniture or playing a musical instrument. (Though he would not recommend playing the earworm.) If you find the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle easy, it won’t do the trick. We’re talking Saturday hard.
2. Replace one earworm with another.
A song that’s stuck in your head is only maddening if it’s an maddening song. “Sometimes if it’s a trite little melody, that can be more annoying than if one of our favorite songs is stuck in our brains,” Janata says. So fire up a playlist and hope a better song chases “Baby Shark” out of your mind.
3. Learn to love the earworm.
“The upside,” Janata says, “is that earworms are actually good for you in that they help you remember other stuff better. For people who are really into the Nationals this season and have ‘Baby Shark’ stuck in their brains, years from now, decades from now, if they hear the song they’ll actually remember stuff from this year pretty well. Better than they would if they didn’t have this earworm assist. My advice is to just embrace the earworm.”