Ever since I succumbed, like countless others, to the bizarre charms of “Too Many Cooks,” the indescribably weird and wonderful Adult Swim sitcom-intro parody that has gone viral over the last few days, I haven’t been able to get that damn song out of my head. Whether I’m editing a blog post or walking to the kitchen for coffee, “Too many cooks (too many cooks)” plays over and over in my head on an endless and exhausting loop. So I emailed a couple of researchers to ask how to get this annoyingly infectious ditty out of my head, and they came back with some pretty straightforward advice.
“Earworms tend to crop up during low-attention tasks like waiting in line or chopping vegetables,” said Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis of the University of Arkansas in an email. No one knows exactly why that is, she explained, but researchers speculate that “The kind of executive function that allows us to suppress irrelevant information is less online during these periods, making us more subject to the grip of an earworm.” Whatever the reason, this points to a simple anti-earworm strategy: “Engage yourself with a task that requires more attention.” That is, dive into a report that takes a lot of cognitive energy or have a serious talk with a friend or work on your “Too Many Cooks” fan fiction (okay, maybe not that last one).
If that doesn’t work, there’s still hope: Ira Hyman of Western Washington University said in an email that when he’s got an annoying song stuck in his head, he tries to push it out with another song. “Choose your intrusive thoughts,” he explained. “If music is going to be stuck in your head, choose the music by playing a song you like. I personally play music as I am getting ready to leave my office, get on my bicycle, and pedal home. Since I know that I will often have a song stuck in my head for my bike ride, I have decided to select the song that is stuck.” (He recently wrote a helpful guide to controlling earworms and other intrusive thoughts for Psychology Today.)
All handy advice. The problem is that once I successfully banish this song, I’m still going to have to grapple with that haunting final image of Smarf every time I close my eyes.