Why Can’t I Get That Song Out of My Head?

Have you ever been sitting around minding your own business when all of a sudden, a song is in your head and it’s not going anywhere? Yea, me too. This is called an earworm and often, it’s not a song I want there. Just like when my to-do list pops up in my brain and stresses me out, a bad song in there can really hurt my mood. So I had to ask:

Why can’t I get that song out of my head?

Why Can't I Get That Song Out of My Head?


Turns out, it’s not such a weird phenomenon after all! Not only that, but I found a small way to counteract it! Read on for more.


The more you hear a song, the more likely it is to stay in your mind

Okay, this might seem obvious to you, but scientists always like to ensure that what you think intuitively is what’s actually happening. A study by Dr. Tim Byron and Lucinda Fowles shows that repetition and recency may be the key to you earworm woes. Their study exposed people to music they were unfamiliar with to test whether you were more likely to spontaneously recall the tune under different conditions. They showed that both the amount of times you heard a song and how recently you heard that song was very important in terms of how likely it was to infect the mind. So turn your 1 song repeat off on your iPod. Interestingly enough, they also showed that this musical recall seemed to have nothing to do with your emotional attachment to the song.


Your environment may be triggering your earworms

A study by Dr. Ira Hyman and colleagues showed that what you were doing had an effect on whether you got an earworm or not, with school work being the top task during song recall. It’s worth noting that with this, as well as most psych studies done at universities, college students are their main pool for research subjects, so your 80 year old grandmother who is not in school likely is not doing school work when a melodic memory comes to mind. This study also had a ton of other interesting data, including that how hard your brain is working influences your earworm and if you are still hearing the song in your head after listening to it, it’s more likely that it will pop up again in your head within 24 hours.


Your frequency of earworms might be related to the size and shape of your brain

A study by the Earworm Project Goldsmith’s University in London recently showed that the structure of your brain seems to have a lot to do with whether or not year hear music more. They showed that frequency of earworms seemed to be related to the thickness of parts of the brain involved in processing sensory input and dealing with short term memory tasks as well as other brain changes. So apparently, it’s not entirely my fault I get earworms. Thanks, biology!


Okay, but you said you’d help me get rid of this horrible earworm…

You’re right, I did! A recent report in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that chewing gum could help your earworm disappear. It’s been shown that chewing gum probably affects short term memory, which might explain why Cher and Dione always seemed to be so forgetful, as there were many times that you saw them with gum in their mouths. (Please say I’m not old enough that the Clueless reference is lost on you, my friends!) The same study regarding short term memory also found that tapping a table had similar effects (although not as great as the gum), so doing something physical that distracts from your song on repeat may actually help you to get rid of that annoyance. Try taking a quick walk to get some coffee (and find out why you should save those coffee grounds for your DIY beauty products here) or taking a five minute doodle break. If this doesn’t work, the BBC has put together a nice list of 10 reader cures for earworms.


And just as one last tidbit of knowledge, I thought I’d point out something interesting. A lot of this research has been done by or paid for by marketing execs to use music as a tool to get their jingles or the products stuck in your head. That’s not to say that anyone is trying to manipulate you in to buying a product any more than normal with marketing, but they’re looking into new ways to market to the masses. Just food for thought.

What songs do you get stuck in your head? Do you have a trick for getting them to go away?

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Allena Mistral

Allena is a long time blogger with a passion for helping people. After a lot of thought, she realized that her best skill was her science knowledge. She started spreading her love of science through Chicistry in 2016.

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