An exploratory study on the relationship between earworms and stress
earworms, involuntary musical imagery, stress, infrasound, coherence, heart rate variability
An earworm is defined as hearing music without currently listening to music. Research on earworms is limited; however, research on music in relation to stress and arousal is plentiful. Here we present two studies investigating earworms in relation to arousal. Much research suggests that music can help to reduce stress. On the other hand, one common phenomenon associated with stress is ruminative thoughts. We initially hypothesized that earworms may either be: (1) a form of ruminative thought and thus more likely to occur when an individual was stressed or (2) similar to music therapy, a stress reducing experience. To test this hypothesis, we had participants fill out a modified PANAS scale over the course of a semester during both earworm presence and earworm absence. We found that significantly more people reported lower anxiety during earworm presence and higher anxiety during earworm absence than people who reported the opposite. From these results, it was unclear whether people would be more likely to get an earworm when they were less stressed, or whether getting an earworm helped to reduce stress. Therefore, study two was developed to further probe the results from study one. In study two, we assessed arousal before and after an earworm induction procedure. A regression model found that the presence or absence of earworms and infrasound predicted arousal post-earworm induction. Our research adds to the body of literature regarding earworms and attempts to clarify whether earworms are a useful form of anxiety-reduction.
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