April 21, 2021/Brain & Nervous System

Why Do Songs Get Stuck in My Head?

The short answer from a clinical psychologist

man with earbuds listens to music on his phone

Q: Why do I get songs stuck in my head? Does this happen to everyone?

A: You’re not alone. According to experts, 98% of us get stuck on a song, known as an earworm.

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Certain people are more prone to earworms. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or who have obsessive thinking styles experience this phenomenon more often. Musicians also frequently get earworms. Men and women have earworms equally, although women tend to stay with the song longer and find it more irritating.

Recent research suggests that songs with intervals that jump up and down are more likely to get stuck in your head. For example, the whistling part of Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger.

More study is needed to determine exactly what’s happening in your brain when earworms take hold, but repetition often is related to stress. Anything repeated probably has some tension-reducing characteristic, capturing your attention so you’re not attending to other things you find unpleasant.

If you can’t get unstuck? Do a brain teaser puzzle or read a novel. Chewing gum or listening to the entire song (not just the catchy part) may also break the loop.

— Clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD

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