This post is in the Sensory Issues category

The concept of Earworms has been introduced earlier in this document.  Earworms (or Ohwurm in German) is a term first used in the 1980s but a phenomenon known long before that time. We are all familiar with the experience of a snatch of a song getting “stuck” in our heads, that goes around and around, losing all sense of musicality and meaning, and getting in the way of other thoughts. Oliver Sachs suggests that, like so many of the traits and experiences associated with autism, there is a continuum between normal and pathological (Sacks, 2008, p. 30). He refers to the experience as “brainworms” and it is surely a more accurate term, as the sound is not heard by the ear, but constructed in a higher part of the brain. He also draws a relationship between “ordinary” earworms which are “almost universal” with the echolalia, whether verbal or in the mind, that can go on for for days at a time in those with autism, OCD or Tourette’s.

Musicians in general are more susceptible to earworms than non-musicians (Levitin, 2006, p. 155). Levitin refers to musical phrases of fifteen to thirty seconds that fit within the short term memory “echoic” limit as being the common experience. In my own case earworms can take several forms and do not have to be a catchy tune. Certainly the catchy tune is one of my “stims” but more common and disturbing is the “self talk” variety, where a phrase of speech becomes stuck in the same way. Such a phrase does not necessarily have a distinct meaning. They are usually not “the voice in your head telling you what to do”. I am not schizophrenic. In many cases it is the sound of the words that captures the attention, not the meaning.

I have created a piece that attempts to demonstrate the experience. It actually came about because I was having one of those non-sensical earworms and I suddenly thought to myself “my brain is on loop today” – and that was it. “My brain is on loop today” was with me for close to fifteen hours.

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