Earworms,  Media work

Earworms on Radio 4

Well here I am, coming towards the end of another week working at Residential School for the Open University. This week I have had a lovely group of students who are all working on various eyewitness testimony based projects. This is a relatively new area for me – I remember it from my degree, and I have read up on the subject for this course, but it is the first chance I have had to have a go at these projects with students. And I must say I think they work very well. It is definitely fun for the students to spend the morning of the first day searching YouTube for crime videos! Thank goodness for American shows that focus on ‘World’s most inane robberies’ or something similar. This is the video one of my groups is using: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNjqIHvvZhw . Having had this fun however, designing the procedures, which must encompass distraction tasks, misinformation reports, and questionnaires, is all hard work and very interesting.

One downside to the effort required over the past week is that I am slow to report on my radio appearance last week. A shame, but I am here at last!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Alex who works for the BBC Science Radio Unit. Amongst his numerous jobs he organises guests for Radio 4’s science show which is called Material World. Material World is a science programme that reports on developments across the disciplines. Each week, scientists describe their work, conveying the excitement they feel for their research projects. In my case the shows organisers and producers were interested in the earworm project. So I agreed to come on as a studio guest and answer a few questions posed by the presenter Quentin Cooper.

I arrived at the Portland Place BBC studio early and had a look around. It was very exciting to see the inside of a studio and I watched with interest as presenters I knew so well by voice finished recording the Food Program. Isn’t it strange when you see the voice behind the face! In any case I got my chance a few minutes later when I was sat in the studio facing Quentin himself. He is lovely. So funny and he has an real enthusiasm for science. He is full of questions, only a few of which he has time to ask on the air. Since we only had a few minutes during the program he focused mainly on the history of how the project began and the reasons why we were interested in the phenomenon of earworms. I hope I managed to get across the 3 main aims of the project:

1) We would like to know what makes tunes stick in the brain. We can look at this by analysing the musical structure of tunes people report hearing as earworms

2) We would like to know if certain people are more vulnerable to earworms. We can look at this by asking questions about people’s musical history, lifestyle and personality. Hopefully we can then find some links to patterns of earworm occurence.

3) We would like to know what types of situations trigger earworms. We look at this by examining people’s reports of what they were doing when an earworm occurred, and their own insights into what might have set a particular tune off in their heads.

The overall aim is of course to learn more about the nature and prevalence of earworms and to hopefully come up with some predictors for their occurence. All this research will offer really useful insights (as so many people get earworms) into the nature of our secret inner musical world; how it works, what is can be used for, and how we might control it better in the future.

My experience on Radio 4 was great. Everyone there was really nice and helpful, and it is always wonderful to see enthusiasm for your research. I am looking forward to going back on the program in a few months time to share some insights into the initial results.

A final reminder: Our prize draw for the earworm questionnaire will be made on Saturday (31st July). So if you would like a chance to win £150 please fill in the questionnaire by then. Our prize draw has to have a limit because of grant demands, but our questionnaire will stay up for months to come so please fill it in at any time! The more data we get, the more answers we will find and the more representative and reliable our results will be for the future.

Thanks 🙂

Questionnaire: http://earwormery.com

Podcast of Radio 4 show ( my bit starts around the 7 minute mark): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t2xct

One Comment

  • Sally Bunyan

    Many, many years ago, my aunt suggested that if I couldn’t get a song out of my head, I should sing the jingle from the Johnson’s polish advert. Even to this day I sing this jingle and it really works for me.