Why Songs Get Stuck In Your Head

It’s happened to all of us (especially Disney collectors!).   You hear a song, or maybe a couple of bars, and it’s stuck in your head forever.  At least it seems like forever.  And it doesn’t have to be the actual song; it could simply be a memory trigger, like a movie poster.

Your nemesis is an “earworm,” or what people who study this kind of thing call “involuntary musical imagery.”  A recent study in the journal Psychology of Music found that more than 90% of adults hear them on at least a weekly basis.  Of course, a lot depends upon the individual, but for most people the typical earworm lasts about 30 minutes, tends to be a tune with lyrics and a fast tempo, and is usually a song segment that contains an unexpected shift in pitch or tempo to get your attention.

This all makes sense, but why are we susceptible to remembering song segments (as well as slogans, sayings, and movie clips) in the first place?  There are several thoughts.  Earworms could be memory devices; there is research that shows music can help improve memory among people with multiple sclerosis, and evidence suggests our minds use association to store and retrieve memories.  And we can always blame it on technology — recorded music with limitless repeats is a recent innovation that perhaps we’ve embraced too well.

If songs running through your head is causing you a real problem, what can you do about it?  Experts say a good way is to divert the brain’s attention by concentrating on a mentally-demanding task.  Or do something with a different rhythm, like chewing gum or eating.  And if all else fails, try  confrontation  — listen to the entire song (which gives new meaning to the term “closure”).


Adapted from “You Asked: Why Do Certain Songs Get Stuck in Your Head?” by By Markham Heid ( http://time.com/5115013/song-stuck-in-head-earworm/? ).

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