Why Do Songs Keep Replaying in My Head?

Music has a tendency to get stuck in our heads. You know the experience – a tune intrudes on your thoughts and plays, and replays, in a never-ending loop.

Dr Vicky Williamson, a music psychologist and memory expert at Goldsmith’s College in London, found that scientists use a range of terms to describe the subject – stuck-song syndrome, sticky music, and cognitive itch, or most commonly “earworm” -a word which some people misunderstand. She identified a set of triggers that had apparently caused these tunes to pop into people’s heads and there.

“The first one is music exposure, which means the person has heard the music recently,” she says. Another unsurprising finding was that if you hear a song repeatedly, you’re more likely to get stuck with it. But sometimes songs pop into our heads even when we haven’t heard them for a long time. In this case, something in our current environment may trigger the memory. Another trigger she identified was stress.


Daniel Levitin of McGill University in Montreal, an expert in the neuroscience of music, says the combination of rhythm, rhyme, and melody provides reinforcing cues that make songs easier to remember than words alone. He says the main question people ask him about earworms is: “How do we turn them off?”

Levitin offers a piece of advice: “Just think of another song and hope that’ll push out the first one.” Both Levitin and Williamson agree that getting an unwanted tune out of your head is a relief. But of course the song that cures you might just end up being the next one that gets stuck.

Source: BBC News

Image: TLC