Ever had a song stuck in your head?

October 15, 2019 | Science, Campus Life

Maybe it’s the latest Ariana Grande single. Or an embarrassing guilty pleasure tune from your junior high days. Or worse — the dreaded “Baby Shark.”

Chances are you've had an earworm at some point, but are those relentless notes simply irritating, or is there something more insidious going on? Jess Tingley, a psychology honours student in the Bachelor of Arts program, wanted to find out by digging into the potential connection between earworms and stress.

Title of work: “The Effect of Earworms on Affect”

About the research

Jess and her faculty mentor, Dr. Michele Moscicki, conducted surveys to measure how people were feeling both when they were experiencing an earworm and when they weren’t, and compared the two, looking at the anxiety levels reported.

The results were the opposite of what they expected. When people weren’t experiencing an earworm, they reported higher levels of anxiety than the times when they did have an earworm.

“It might be that earworms have some sort of calming effect, which I know is true for some people that I've spoken with,” says Jess. “We have another year left in my honours program to continue working on it and maybe do something more experimental to see if we can find that connection again.”

What made you curious about this topic?

“One day I was thinking about how for the past few weeks school had been stressing me out,” recalls Jess. “And how literally every day I had music in my head.”

She started wondering if there could be a correlation between stress and earworms. “I found a couple of qualitative studies that mentioned that there might be a connection, but there weren’t many papers on the subject, so we decided to design an experiment to see what we could find.”

What's next?

Jess spent the summer planning out the next steps of her research and will continue her work this term.

“I didn’t know much about getting involved in research until I found out about the honours program,” she says. “I’ve been enjoying it so much that I plan to apply to grad schools to continue with research in psychology after I finish my degree. Anyone considering getting involved in research at MacEwan should give it a go! It’s been a great experience so far.”

Jess received an Undergraduate Student Research Initiative (USRI) dissemination grant, as well as a SAMU conference grant, that allowed her to travel to present her research at the Banff Annual Seminar in Cognitive Science in May. Learn more about funding opportunities for students.



Share your work

There are many ways to share – and celebrate – work you’re proud of, including MacEwan’s Student Research Day (where Jess presented her research) and a range of on-campus student conferences and forums.

Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter