Earworms, Patterns and the Zeigarnik Effect

Do you sometimes have a song stuck in your head; a song insidiously intruding into your thoughts, one that you can’t get rid of?  In German that condition is called an earworm and according the Wikipedia they last longer (and are more irritating)  for women than men. Someone has to study that further.

When I posted yesterday about Amanda Goode’s work in the morning, I had no idea that her patterns and colors would be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

I have earworms frequently. Yesterday for example it happened when we went on a fun excursion to Aurora, NY to have brunch with friends and stroll the grounds of MacKenzie Childs. Though the store is not to my taste, their grounds are spectacular (and their bathroom features the most beautiful tiles).

My husband wondered if I had an attack of  synethesia, when I declared that I was having an earworm with Amanda Goode’s work, a visual earworm of color and pattern.

For instance,  the patio furniture looked to me like her crochet pattern:
The bathroom in the store looked like her knit pattern:

The scenery and way the girls (not my daughter, but my friends daughters) were dressed in the top image also echoed the colors I had posted about in the morning perfectly.

Isn’t it interesting that our perception follows so much what is in our thoughts, or is it the other way around?

It seems that our brain likes tasks to be finished. The reason a song gets stuck in our head is usually that it was interrupted.  Maybe it was so bad that we turned it off half way through listening, or we only remember the first verse, go blank and do something else.

Our brain remembers uncompleted tasks better than completed ones and in an attempt for the brain to come to closure, the song pops in our head at odd intervals and repeats itself, hoping for…. I don’t know.

This is called the Zeigarnik effect after Bluma Zeigarnik.

For me it’s usually the awful songs that get stuck. The ones I hear on the radio and turn off half way through. Although last week I was stuck with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, which I sang at the top of my lungs in the car for an entire week (yes, I was alone). It could be worse.

I wonder how the Zeigarnik effects relates to creativity. I do have some projects that need finishing touches.

But then, unlike a song, many creative projects don’t have a clear end. Usually, once I decide that a project is finished (however unfinished it may look to the observer), I can let go and my brain checks it off nicely. It happens when my exploration is over and I come to a satisfactory moment of “having figured it out”.

Do you have trouble abandoning a project (or declaring it finished) before starting a new one?

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5 Responses to “Earworms, Patterns and the Zeigarnik Effect”

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  1. Setari says:

    I too experience earworms often! Just a spoken phrase from a song, or a snatch of music, and that song will be in my head for hours or days. Drives me crazy! The best remedy seems to be to work out the words in my head if I know the song, or just to Google the lyrics. Once that is done, I can run through it with all the words in my mind, listen to something else, and it will stop. So the closure explanation works.

    Love the work by Amanda Goode! Just gorgeous! I just bought a book by Karen Searle, “Knitting Art”, which is out of print but worth tracking down for the color and invention. It has her work and that of others:
    http://www.amazon.com/Knitting-Art-Innovative-Contemporary-Artists/dp/0760330670/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339434518&sr=8-1&keywords=knitting+art

    Amanda Goode’s pieces remind me of needle lace, too. Another wonderful, out of print book is Jill Nordfors Clark’s “Needle Lace: Techniques and Inspiration”, which replaces her earlier classic book on needle lace. This one is also worth tracking down, with clear instructions, in addition to beautiful art. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Needle-Lace-Jill-Nordfors-Clark/dp/0965824853/ref=tmm_hrd_title_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339433594&sr=8-3

    As always, thanks for the inspiration!

  2. frifris says:

    Interesting topic. As soon as you mentioned it, I could immediately see the link between your pictures of course. Once stated, it can’t be missed.
    It’s like learning the meaning of a new word or concept, as soon as we grasped the idea, all the sudden we hear this word in all kinds of contexts afterwards. I had this very often when I was still at school. I guess I don’t learn that many things anymore.

    Ah, and it is always the worst songs that get stuck, of course. With Adele, you got away with a good one :)
    My kids exhibit this Ohrwurm behaviour as well (and of course, infect me with their songs, ugh!). My husband is just as bad, sometimes he only hums a few notes of one of the many horrific songs we both hate (that he got stuck with) to make me suffer as well. Argh. The title can be enough, we noticed, because the brain immediately starts looking for the “listed song” and… gets stuck. Sometimes I notice this with some of the melodies of computer games as well (Super Mario was especially bad). Enough, enough.

    I can’t have two projects at the same time and I always have to have one finished (as in “really finished”) before starting a new one. My brain can’t concentrate on two sewing projects, I’ve noticed. Doing something completely unrelated to sewing doesn’t matter though, because then my brain can still work on the sewing project somewhere more or less subconscious (whereas another sewing project would then block the exact same spot – that is my silly explanation, anyway).

    Interesting thoughts, thank you for sharing them.

  3. Suschna says:

    Du hattest also einen Augenwurm – und es stimmt, die Sachen passen jeweil zusammen. Aber ein bisschen ist es ja auch selektive Wahrnehmung, wenn das Gehirn an etwas dran ist, sieht es nur noch Dinge, die dazu passen. Ich hatte das mal sehr schlimm, als ich Knospen etc. häkeln wollte. Ich habe nur noch Dinge gesehen, die man hätte häkeln können.
    Ansonsten kann ich hunderte unfertige Projekte haben, das macht mir gar nichts. Die drängendste Idee setzt sich dann durch.
    Über Amanda Goode bin ich zu einer Malerin gekommen, das hat sich dann auch schon wieder gelohnt. Danke also für die Funde!

  4. Katie says:

    I actively choose which song I will listen to last in my car before I go into work everyday simply because I know it’ll be stuck in my head. Sometimes, if I want to write or craft, I’ll do the same and select a song that I know gets creativity going, usually something with a little melancholy, plenty of vocal interest, and poetic lyrics. Every now and then, it simply must be instrumental, though I find instrumental music to be the most obnoxious at times because I can’t simply sing it until my head clears up.

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