A Simple Trick to Prevent Songs From Getting Stuck in Your Head

istock
istock

We’ve all been victims of the earworm: a catchy piece of music gets stuck in our heads and no matter what we do, we can’t seem to dislodge it. Earworms are incredibly common; 90% of us suffer from earworms at least once a week. And while they’re not actually harmful, they can be really distracting. In one survey, a third of participants classified their earworms as “unpleasant,” which is a nice way of saying “severely annoying.” Some people claim they can control this phenomenon, but most of us just have to suffer through it. But fear not! Researchers have come to the rescue with a scientifically backed earworm prevention weapon: bubble gum. 

Yes, scientists at the University of Reading, UK say the best way to treat earworms is to chew gum. 

Why we get earworms in the first place isn’t entirely clear, but one likely culprit is the brain’s auditory cortex, which processes sound. Dr. Philip Beaman, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of Reading, says the brain’s tendency to repeat a familiar tune “may be a form of involuntary musical memory.” One proven method for degrading short-term memory is to repeat a random word over and over again in your head (the official term for this is “irrelevant sub-vocalisation”). Previous studies have shown that “mouthing something random like the first few letters of the alphabet while looking at a list of words makes most people forget 1/3 to 1/2 of the words on the list,” explains Deborah Netburn at the Los Angeles Times. The act of chewing gum has a similar effect, the new research suggests, and “therefore can be recommended as an aid to get rid of earworms.”

If you’re not a fan of gum, you could also pick up a puzzle book when you can’t shake an annoying song. Previous research suggests solving a tough anagram or sudoku can help. “The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,” Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University, told the Telegraph. “If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head.” 

You don’t want something too difficult or your mind will wander, and you don’t want something too easy. “It is like a Goldilocks effect – it can’t be too easy and it can’t be too hard, it has got to be just right,” Hyman says

Others fight off earworms with another song, psychologist Vicky Williamson told NPR. “Some people think that the British national anthem sung quite slow is good for getting rid of earworms,” she says.

In case you were wondering, some of the most common earworms, according to researchers, are: “Single Ladies” by Beyonce; “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga; and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles. I’d also like to add “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.

Do Dogs Understand What You’re Telling Them? Scientists Are Scanning Their Brains to Find Out

iStock/kozorog
iStock/kozorog

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what’s happening in a dog’s brain when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like gestures, to figure out what we mean by that word? Do they picture a dog biscuit when you say “cookie,” or just the sensation of eating? In a new study, scientists from Emory University and the New College of Florida tried to get to the bottom of this question by training dogs to associate certain objects with words like “blue” and “duck,” then using fMRI brain scanners to see what was happening in the dogs’ heads when they heard that word.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined the brains of 12 different dogs of various breeds (you can see them below) that had been trained to associate two different objects with random words like “duck,” “blue,” and “beach ball.” Those two objects, which were different for each dog, were brought by the dogs’ owners from home or chosen from a selection of dog toys the researchers compiled. One object had to be soft, like a stuffed animal, and the other one had to be something hard, like a rubber toy or squeaky toy, to make sure the dogs could clearly distinguish between the two. The dogs were trained for several months to associate these objects with their specific assigned words and to fetch them on command.

Then, they went into the fMRI machine, where they had been trained to sit quietly during scanning. The researchers had the dogs lie in the machine while their owners stood in front of them, saying the designated name for the toys and showing them the objects. To see how the dogs responded to unknown words, they also held up new objects, like a hat, and referred to them by gibberish words.

Dogs in a science lab with toys
Prichard et al., Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018]

The results suggest that dogs can, in fact, discriminate between words they know and novel words. While not all the dogs showed the same neural response, they showed activation in different regions of their brains when hearing the familiar word versus the novel one.

Some of the dogs showed evidence of a greater neural response in the parietotemporal cortex, an area of the dog brain believed to be similar to the human angular gyrus, the region of the brain that allows us to process the words we hear and read. Others showed more neural activity in other regions of the brain. These differences might be due to the fact that the study used dogs of different sizes and breeds, which could mean differences in their abilities.

The dogs did show a surprising trend in their brains’ response to new words. “We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” lead author Ashley Prichard of Emory University said in a press release. “What's surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans—people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words." This could be because the dogs were trying extra hard to understand what their owners were saying.

The results don’t prove that talking to your dog is the best way to get its attention, though—it just means that they may really know what's coming when you say, "Want a cookie?"

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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