Why do songs get stuck in my head? © Getty Images

Why do songs get stuck in my head?

Songs that get stuck in our heads, or ‘earworms’, can be very annoying - so why do they happen?

Asked by: Kieran Whooley, Ireland


Songs that get stuck in our heads are called ‘earworms’ from the German ‘ohrworm’, or ‘involuntary musical imagery’, and can be very annoying. Nearly everyone gets them on occasion, but some people are much more susceptible than others. Earworms might exist because the brain never stops working. There are loops and patterns constantly swirling about. The auditory areas of the cortex, where musical information is retained, are no different and may be processing musical scraps or whole symphonies all day.

One theory describes songs as memes – bits of information that compete to use your brain to get themselves copied. Most fail, but some have what it takes to become an earworm, whether that’s an unforgettable catchphrase or a recursive structure such that you never reach a satisfying end point and stop.


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.