Have you ever found yourself getting annoyed at someone for singing a song on an endless loop, only to find yourself humming the same song later? Research suggests that even if you find a song annoying, if it’s catchy, it will stick in your head.
Listening to music triggers the part of your brain called the auditory cortex. This is the part that processes information that you receive through hearing. It’s found in your temporal lobe which receives signals from your ears, like pitch and the volume of sound.
Songs that are most likely to get stuck in your head are called earworms, because just like worms invade spaces, songs can sometimes invade your thoughts.
When you hear familiar sounds your auditory cortex automatically fills in the rest. So in other words, even after you’ve gotten sick of a song, your brain continues to sing along.
Certain things like tempo, lyrics, rhythm and volume all make a song catchy and earworms are often caused by your subconscious, which repeats songs like these on a loop.
When you listen to a song, your brain records information surrounding it and the more you pay attention to it, the more intense the memory of the information will be. As well as recording information about the song, your brain will also form association type memories, like the place you first heard the song, or people you were with when the song was playing.
Chances are you often hear a song on the radio and find yourself thinking of something or someone. Your brain associates certain songs with certain memories. For example, if you heard a song on your first date with your partner, your brain will link the memory to the song, so when you listen to it, you’ll remember that day and how you felt.
Just like repetition helps us to remember information like study notes, constantly hearing a song could turn it into an earworm. You hear songs on advertisements, from a passing car, in the lift, as a soundtrack in a movie, on the radio and a thousand other places. If you hear a song all the time on different platforms, the repetition might turn it into an earworm.
Evade the earworm
Some earworms can be annoying, but there are ways to get rid of them.
- Do activities that occupy your mind, like reading a book or watching a movie.
- If a certain part of a song is stuck in your head, try listening to the whole song.
- Try listening to other songs that you like.