The Science Behind Ear Worms: Why Songs Get Stuck in Your Head

Introduction : Why Songs Get Stuck in Your Head

Have you ever found yourself humming a song and unable to stop? Perhaps you have even found that a particular tune or lyric has become lodged in your mind, playing on repeat throughout the day. This phenomenon is known as an earworm, and it is something that affects a significant proportion of the population. But what causes earworms, and why do some songs seem to get stuck in our heads more than others?

The Science of Earworms

For many years, researchers have been investigating the secrets of musical popularity and why some songs are more successful than others. One of the key factors that has emerged from this research is the concept of involuntary musical imagery, which refers to the tendency to repeatedly hum the same song or melody over and over again.

According to a study conducted at the School of Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales, Australia, the key to creating an earworm lies in the repetitive nature of the music. In particular, the researchers found that there are certain parts of a song that are more likely to get stuck in our heads than others. These parts are known as “hooks,” and they typically consist of a catchy melody or repeated lyric.

The Role of Language and Music

While the repetition of a hook is undoubtedly a significant factor in creating an earworm, there are other factors at play too. For example, the language and music of a song also play a crucial role in its ability to get stuck in our heads.

As Professor Emery Schubert, the lead author of the study mentioned earlier, explains, familiarity is essential when it comes to creating an earworm. If the listener is not familiar with the language and music of a song, it is unlikely to get stuck in their head. This is because the listener needs to feel comfortable repeating the lyrics or melody, which can only happen if they are already familiar with them.

Can Earworms be a Problem?

While earworms can be a fun and enjoyable experience, they can also become a problem in some cases. For example, if you are trying to concentrate on a task and a song keeps playing in your head, it can be distracting and frustrating. In these situations, it is important to find ways to break the cycle of the earworm and refocus your attention on the task at hand.

One way to do this is to listen to a different song or tune that is more upbeat or energetic. Alternatively, you could try engaging in a physical activity that requires your full attention, such as exercise or a puzzle. By doing so, you can help to distract your mind from the earworm and prevent it from taking over your thoughts.


In summary, earworms are a common and often enjoyable experience for many people. While the repetitive nature of music is a key factor in creating an earworm, the language and music of a song also play a crucial role. For some people, earworms can become a problem if they are distracting or interfering with their ability to concentrate. However, there are various strategies that can be employed to break the cycle of the earworm and regain focus. Overall, the science of earworms is a fascinating area of research that offers insights into the complex relationship between music and the human brain.