The scientific reason songs get stuck in your head

UC expert featured in Prevention article

You know the feeling: that song you caught the last 30 seconds of on the radio is on a loop in your brain, replaying over and over. You find yourself humming the tune even though you don't even like the song that much.

The phenomenon where a song gets stuck in our heads is called an earworm, and the University of Cincinnati's Steven Gordon, MD, recently spoke with Prevention on how they happen and ways to get the song out of your head.

An earworm happens when you have the “inability to dislodge a song and prevent it from repeating itself” in your head, said Gordon, assistant professor in UC's College of Medicine and a UC Health physician.

Earworms are typically fragments of music, about 15 to 30 seconds long, heard internally on repeat. Gordon said research shows up to 98% of the Western population has experienced earworms. They are totally normal for most people, although in some cases they can be linked to anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Although they seem to pop up out of nowhere, Gordon said earworms are almost always linked to a memory subconsciously triggered by emotions, an association or just by hearing a melody.

Gordon said listening to the song stuck in your head can work to push it out of your mind for some people, but for others, chewing gum, listening to talk radio and working on a puzzle can help occupy the mind. However, there is no research that definitively proves these methods are effective.

Read the Prevention article.

Featured photo at top of woman wearing headphones and yelling. Photo/iStock/shironosov.

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