Earworms

Below is a public speech I delivered last year, we had no set brief or topic list so I decided to be slightly wacky and choose a topic that was different and combined two of my interests: music and psychology. 

As far as evolutionary biologists can determine, there was no need for humans to develop music. There are theories, of course. Is our capacity for music a side effect of developing language? Did it result from an attempt to mimic birdsong? No one really knows. Yet our brains seem to be hardwired for music in so many wonderful and mysterious ways.  

Have you ever had a fragment of a song stuck in your head and you just can’t shake it off? You have an earworm.  A well-documented neurological phenomenon. Over 90% of people are plagued by earworms at least once a week and about a quarter of people experience them several times a day. From a psychological perspective earworms are an example of mental and auditory imagery. Just like you can imagine what a baby crying sounds like, these tunes remain stuck in your head. Earworms are a special form of auditory imagery because they’re involuntary, they don’t just intrude on your mental soundscape but have a tendency to get stuck in a loop repeating again and again, mainly due to modern technology.

The last hundred years have seen an incredible proliferation of devices that help you listen to songs again and again. However it is equally possible that every great historical figure from Shakespeare to King Henry VIII may well have suffered from earworms.

Besides music it is hard to think of another case of intrusive imagery that’s so widespread. Why music? Why don’t watercolours get stuck in our heads?

One theory has to do with the way music is represented in memory. When we listen to a song we’re constantly hearing forward in time anticipating the next note. It’s hard for us to think of one particular musical moment in isolation. If you want to think about the pitch of the word “you” in happy birthday, we have to start back at happy and sing through until we get to you. In this way a tune is just like a habit, once you start tying your shoe you’re on automatic until you tighten the bow.

So what makes an earworm? Songs such as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance or Moves like Jagger by Maroon 5 were concluded to be some of the top earworms. Both of these songs share similar characteristics. They are usually faster, with a fairly generic and easy-to-remember melody but with some particular intervals, such as leaps or repetitions, that set them apart from the average pop song, according to the first large scale study of earworms.

The study found that the tunes most likely to get stuck in people’s heads were those with more common global melodic contours, meaning they have overall melodic shapes commonly found in Western Pop music. For example, one of the most common contour patterns is heard in “Twinkle, Twinkle little star” where the first phrase rises in pitch and the second falls. Numerous other nursery rhymes follow the same pattern, making them easy for young children to remember. The opening riff of Moves like Jagger by Maroon 5, also follows this common contour pattern of rising then falling pitch, which is why it can get stuck in people’s heads.

Studies of earworms can help us to understand how brain networks – which are involved in perception, emotions, memory and spontaneous thoughts – behave in different people. However continual research can help us fully understand why songs get stuck in our head and in turn unlock mysteries about basic cognition.

 

Navigating teenage friendships

I may only be 16 yet I have had a fair few ups and downs in terms of my friendships during my early teenage years.

The importance of teenage friendships is reiterated throughout your secondary school journey and your parents and family just want you ” go say hi” “be friendly”. Whilst this is the best advice they could give you, to step outside of your comfort zone and socialise with complete strangers who become “bff’s” is a scary and difficult transition to make from primary school where you were the ‘top dogs’.

I can’t complain really, during my early years at secondary school I had made solid connections with people in my class and had formed a best friend, and we were inseparable. I was secure in a little bubble of happiness and I loved school life. Of course they were petty arguments over small insignificant things that are the most important things for a 12/13 year old. “you stole my favourite pen” “you didn’t wait for me after lunch”. But power of the teenage girl and her friendships is a powerful bond and is something that is underrated.

In the words of one of my favourite bloggers/Youtubers, Lucy Wood:

Show me another part of society where friendship circles and best friends make each other feel invincible, like they can do anything when they’re together, like each other’s support can lift them above everything they’ve got to face in day to day life.

Teenage girls are often labelled as bitchy too, and although not so positive, it is equally as powerful a talent. Show me another part of society that have the power and the intelligence and the awareness to hit so specifically on one another’s weakest points with absolute pure venom.

I was never bullied at school but I was acutely aware of my place on the unwritten social ladder.  I was “uncool” because I was clever, I loved my studies and did any club going during and after school. For the most part it didn’t bother me, I had my friends and that’s all that really mattered.

Along came Year 9 – 10. Work became more important as the run up to GCSE’S began. New people joined our year and I made one of my best friends to this day. But the fear and apprehension in the face of teenage girls when there “bbf’s” strayed and formed new friends was apparent. Parties with alcohol and eventually drugs were the cool thing to go to, however this only exaggerated the divide and cliques that were established early in the year.

Fast forward to the start of Year 11, the beginning of the end of GCSE’s. Stress levels at an all time high and relationships strained and tested as people became progressively more tired and frustrated. It was interesting to observe the several different ways people deal with stress and the ultimate fear of failing. Then comes the talk of “moving on” “next year” and “college”. Suddenly having the comfort blanket teased away from you when you realise that next year everything will be different again. This is when my relationships were tested and I learnt the hard way who my true friends were.

One of my close friends I had already lost to the evil of popularity. Having welcomed her in and given her a leg up into school life, she realised where her position on the ladder was and spread her wings.  My first guy friend I had also lost due to the shadow of another friend.

But even after this I felt fine, I wasn’t crushed by losing these friendships – I truly believed that my two best friends would be friends for life. Until one of them ghosted me.  Ghosting — is the practice of silently ending a relationship by suddenly leaving all communication unanswered. It may be a particularly cruel way to breakup a relationship but is unfortunately a popular way of ending things.

It was only until after the friendship was over, or at least it had fizzled out to a bear minimum that I realised I had been ghosted. For a good few weeks during my remaining time at school I tried my hardest to keep the relationship alive. I just couldn’t understand or comprehend why she would suddenly pull the plug. Had our 5 year friendship meant nothing to her? It was only when some other girls in my year (who I wasn’t particularly close with) approached me and asked if I was okay – they asked me if my friendship was okay. I answered honestly. I don’t know. I have no clue. Are we friends anymore? “I guess so” I replied.

On one level, the appeal of ghosting is easy to understand: avoiding confrontation is seductively easy. But that’s only because the person pulling the disappearing act doesn’t have to witness the aftermath — the hurt, pain, and confusion that happen when a relationship ends without a real ending.

Having personally experienced this before here is my advice for other teenagers like myself:

  1. Give yourself time. Don’t feel like you have to instantly be okay. It will hurt and ultimately be very confusing.
  2.  Don’t go hunting for answers or …. an apology. It’s easy to fall into a spiral of second-guessing and wondering where you went wrong.  “You don’t know if it’s a ‘them’ issue or a ‘you’ issue” — and there could be a million different things going on in their life, all unrelated to you, that caused them to disappear. If you care about that person and likelihood is you do, then you will still want them to be happy and content with their life. But don’t waste your time and energy on someone who doesn’t truly value your wellbeing and feelings anymore.
  3. Force a positive spin on it. Just because the relationship faded, doesn’t mean it’s all bad. You are never completely the same person after a relationship with someone has ended. If you can reframe it in terms of what you’ve learned, you can move on stronger and more aware than you were before.

Despite this sad and unexpected ending to my secondary school relationships and having  made the tough decision to move on to a whole new ball game next year, I will look back at my time at secondary school and my friendships with joy and nostalgia. For the most part I truly loved my time at school, I was lucky to have never been bullied and to have been blessed with friends who at the time, genuinely had my best interests at heart. So my ending is bittersweet, and that’s okay as I look forward to a new adventure in the near future with new challenges and new friendships on the horizon.

8 days in Cornwall

Yesterday I returned from the family holiday to Cornwall. Cornwall is a county on England’s rugged southwestern tip. It forms a peninsula encompassing wild moorland, sandy beaches and picturesque harbour villages such as Porthleven where we based ourselves for the week. Nowhere else in Britain quite captures breathtaking natural beauty like this sunny county on the coast.

So without further ado, here is our little photo-guide to spending a week in Cornwall.

BB0C0824-AAE7-4C79-BE46-AC6E22242639We arrived on a Friday and pottered around the town and took in our surroundings and scenery. We stayed in a beautiful little house called Song of the Sea just above the main town centre, this meant everything was within walking distance and yet it still had spectacular views of the sea and beach. We had dinner at the Harbour Inn and watched the sunset on the pier. It was a lovely start to the holiday.

65B4D436-89F2-4224-8ACE-132541E62D3EOn Saturday we walked to Penrose to explore the area and then looked in the galleries in the town, we relaxed on the beach in the afternoon and made the most of the sunny weather. If you ever visit Porthleven, you must go visit the Waves Gallery: Mike Lacey photography. Mike has been surfing around Cornwall for eleven years and in the last three years has dedicated his time to photographing the powerful Cornish waves. Every piece of his work is unique and beautiful, just like the waves.

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Penrose cow!
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Morning view from balcony
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‘The kiss’ by Mike Lacey

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On Sunday we brunched at Kota Kai in the town and we ventured a little further to Marazion and St.Michael’s Mount. You can stroll across the granite causeway to the tiny tidal island, where the castle lies. The views are spectacular, showcasing the wide beach below. We drove a little further to reach Land’s End, which is the most westerly point of mainland England and where the famous journey to John O’ Groats begins. A 837 mile distance undertaken by many cyclists, runners and walkers a year.

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The rainy monday morning didn’t dampen our spirits and was a pleasant surprise to the relentless heatwave back home.  The weather meant we had a private beach for the day and my brother attempted body boarding whilst I stood with the waves crashing over my feet. We had a lovely meal at Amelies in the evening sat by the harbour watching the boats as the tide came in.

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Crashing waves and sunset over the pier

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Tuesday came around and we decided to go kayaking with the local guide Ian from Vertical Blue. We kayaked from Lizard Point as the waters were calmer and more sheltered. Despite this, my dad and I still managed to capsize but it is something we will always remember! To dry off, we headed to a secluded little cafe afterwards called the Fat Apples cafe and had a leisurely lunch. We fell in love with the cafe dog, Freddie and the food was delicious I would highly recommend.

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Lizard Point
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Kynance cove

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Wednesday was perhaps my favourite day as we completed a 7 mile walk to Rinsey cove and back, which was part of the South West coastal path. The undulating path took us past old chimneys, secret coves and glorious beaches. We packed a picnic and ate it at the cove, 4 miles later. The walk back although beautiful was tiring and we all enjoyed a long cold drink at the Square on our return. We kept it simple by eating in at home and enjoying the evening sea breeze and sunset from the balcony.

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Rinsey Cove
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Rinsey Cove on arrival
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South West coastal path

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Tired legs and feet meant we had a slow day on the beach by the town, pottering around. It was our last full day in Cornwall and we rounded off our trip by returning to Amelies, our favourite restaurant of the the trip.

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AC30667F-659E-442E-8CE1-628A8BEC78B6We made the most of our ‘going home’ day by visiting The Eden Project, a place I had wanted to visit for a long time after hearing raving reviews from friends. The Rainforest and Mediterranean biomes were fascinating and exciting, with different cafes and a canopy walk up with the vegetation in the rainforest. Native produce was being grown and it was a great chance to see how different environments work and the drastically different lifestyle that tribes and people live in. The Eden Project also houses a stage for live music in the evenings and several smaller outside gardens with a huge variety of English plants neatly arranged and displayed. Connected to the Eden Project is Hangloose, an outdoor adventure company who boasts England’s longest and fastest zip wire called skywire. You can fully embrace your inner spider man and only my brother was brave enough to do it, but a real thrill for adrenaline junkies. This unfortunately completed our trip to Cornwall and we started the 4 hour drive home.

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Panoramic view of the biomes
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Skywire at Hangloose

Overall we had a brilliant holiday full of sun, sand and sea without the complications and stress of airports and time zones. If you are ever in England or fancy a sunny retreat Cornwall is a beautiful place to explore the English countryside. You can surf, kayak, paddleboard, swim in the sea or simply read a book with the sound of the waves in the background all with a healthy dose of sunshine and Cornish cream teas and ice creams to keep you going.

What would it be like to be 440?

I first came across Matt Haig through his book: Reasons to stay alive. The book provides a insight into Haig’s journey with depression and anxiety which he suffered between the ages of 24 and 32. Reasons… is not really a self-help book but more an intensely individual, creative response to a period of profound crisis.

How to Stop Time is completely different yet equally fascinating.

The first thing we discover about Tom Hazard, the protagonist of Matt Haig’s new novel, “How to Stop Time,” is that he is very, very old. He is old, he tells us, “in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old.” Born in France in 1581, he is fast approaching his 440th birthday.  However you wouldn’t know this just by his appearance. Tom has a rare but not unique condition called anageria. Meaning tom ages at a rate of roughly one year for every 15 ordinary human years. Although Tom lives life at the same pace as everyone else it would seem that “only a decade passes between the death of Napoleon and the first man on the moon.” Immune to almost all human diseases, and avoiding a violent death Tom can expect to live to be 950. With 4 centuries of life under his belt, he is only just approaching middle age. And like many middle-aged men, he appears to be suffering something of a midlife crisis.

This is not a new idea however, in recent years Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and Kate Atkinson’s “Life After Life” have both cleverly played with the idea of lives and relationships outside of ordinary human time.

Unlike Niffenegger and Atkinson and Haig’s other popular novel ‘The humans’, ‘How to stop time’ is melancholic and almost saddening.

For Tom longevity is a curse, leading to loneliness at a young age. His unchanging appearance arouses suspicion and hostility within each community he lives. His mother is condemned as a witch and accusations dog his beloved wife Rose and his daughter Marion, who was born with the same condition. Tom knows he must leave them for their safety and his own sanity. In the 400 years since Rose’s death he has drifted around the world, unwilling to settle and unable to achieve sustainable happiness. His only driving motive to live, is the chance to reunite with Marion. When he is approached by the Albatross society, lead by hedonistic Hendrich Pietersen who claims the ‘Mayflies’ (short lived creatures: ordinary humans) armed with superstition and science are out to harm the ‘Albas’ (the Albatrosses, a long lived bird: Tom and others). Tom hopes Hendrich, the mastermind will be able to help track her down.

The resulting novel, is part love story, part thriller, although not quite enough of either.

Almost 450 years is a lot to squeeze into 325 pages, and Haig takes the reader on a pit stop tour of some of the highlights of Tom’s life, including Shakespeare, Captain Cook and  Zedla Fitzgerald. The novel flits between his past life and modern day life in London where Tom is ironically a history teacher. With the book split into 5 parts, the novel is a journey through time from past-present-future from 3 different generations. The present day introduces another love interest at Tom’s high school and Haig’s observant eye on contemporary life remains. “There is only the present. Just as every object on earth contains similar and interchanging atoms, so every fragment of time contains aspects of every other.”

Tom’s dialogue dominates the majority of the novel and despite half a millennium of wisdom, his daughter Marion provides the majority of the true wisdom, quoting Montaigne. ‘She nodded slowly, as if Montaigne himself was also in the room. “He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears” ‘.  The romance found within the novel comes in many different forms. Father and daughter love, romantic love and self love all combine to form a key underlying theme within the novel.

I would have liked a more in-depth progression and description into the Albatross Society, establishing Hendrich’s and Agnes’s characters as more than plot devices, and really gets into the nuts and bolts of how these Albatrosses can stand being uprooted every eight years for brand-new lives, all in the name of survival. The potential for social media and ever-present state surveillance to completely destroy the Albatross Society by unraveling the members’ alibis is only hinted at when Tom starts to use Facebook. But would provide an interesting and relevant touch to the novel.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness and love.