Why do songs get stuck in our heads?

What are some songs that get stuck in your head? Let us know in the comments!


Observer staff

When music gets stuck in your read, it is known as involuntary musical imagery, or “earworm.”

Yesenia De La Torre, Staff Writer

Have you ever wondered why you have a song stuck in your head? 

There is one main factor that weighs into this question. It’s the fact that a song can have a catchy melody and/or catchy lyrics. 

“Melodies are what our ears gravitate towards especially if we are not trained musicians,” said Amanda Brex-Castillo, director of choir at both South Elgin High School and Kenyon Woods Middle School. “When you sing along to a song on the radio, you are singing the melody.”

There is a term that can scientifically name why songs get stuck in our heads, that term is called Involuntary musical imagery (INMI) or also known as “earworms.”

Don’t worry, earworm is not an actual disease but it can be a bothersome thing that people deal with on a regular basis. Thankfully, it does go away after a certain amount of time.

“Familiarity can also increase the likelihood that a song will become INMI,” said Kelly Jakubowski of Durham University. Jakubowski is the lead author of a journal called “Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features and Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery.” 

According to this study, most of the songs that get stuck in our heads are pop songs. From this 2016 study published in the journal  “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts”, the top five songs that are considered earworm songs are:

  1. “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
  2. “Can’t Get You Out of my Head” by Kylie Minogue
  3. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
  4. “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye
  5. “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5

“Songs can also get stuck in our heads because of the lyrics,” Castillo said. “Pop lyrics are simple, short and sweet; this is on purpose so that songs are memorable.”

Although there are no scientific ways to get rid of “earworm” there are some tips that experts suggest: 

  • Try listening to the “earworm song” all the way through 
  • Listen to a different song all the way through
  • Try not to listen to the same song over and over again
  • Chew  gum
  • Sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself
  • Distract your brain by working on puzzles

What are some songs that get stuck in your head? Let us know in the comments!