Frequently I hear people say (and myself included) "darn it, I can't get that song out of my head!".

Are there any studies that examine this phenomenon of songs getting stuck in people's heads?

I.e., what factors are involved in some people to get a certain song stuck in their head and not others:

  • When is it more likely to occur?
  • Why does the same song gets stuck for one person and not for others?
  • What methods can stop it?
  • Is there any relation to other issues like OCD?
  • When it is considered not normal?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ see earworm $\endgroup$
    – John Pick
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 19:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sometimes I get songs stuck in my head as a puzzle. Once I learn the full lyrics and memorize the music, it no longer sticks in my head. It has become boring. $\endgroup$
    – Randy
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 10:45

2 Answers 2


Here is a study that creates and manipulates the "song stuck in your head" phenomenon. In particular, it is a myth that only "bad" songs are stuck in your head. These songs can be categorized as intrusive thoughts. Also the obvious finding was that recently heard music was more likely to be stuck in your head.

The authors comes up with a term called the "Goldilocks Effect." In particular, songs are more likely to be stuck in your head if you are doing a really easy or a really hard task. If you are doing a really easy task it is easy for your mind to think about other things (e.g. think about driving on a highway and being in a "highway hypnosis"). When you are doing a hard task sometimes a moment of relaxation and insight is needed. This is where songs often come up. Thus to control this, you should do an activity that is not too easy or too hard (or not too little or too much arousal following the Yerkes Dodson Law).


Going Gaga: Investigating, Creating, and Manipulating the Song Stuck in My Head

Ira E. Hyman Jr.*, Naomi K. Burland, Hollyann M. Duskin, Megan C. Cook, Christina M. Roy, Jessie C. McGrath, Rebecca F. Roundhill

Kounios, J., & Beeman, M. (2009). The Aha! Moment The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18(4), 210-216.


There is a book dedicates only for that:

On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind

What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again?

Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece?

And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head?

On Repeat offers the first in-depth inquiry into music's repetitive nature, focusing not on a particular style, or body of work, but on repertoire from across time periods and cultures. Author Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis draws on a diverse array of fields including music theory, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, to look head-on at the underlying perceptual mechanisms associated with repetition. Her work sheds light on a range of issues from repetition's use as a compositional tool to its role in characterizing our behavior as listeners, and then moves beyond music to consider related implications for repetition in language, learning, and communication.


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