Here’s The Science Behind Why A Song Gets Stuck In Your Head

“I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world.
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”

I know you read that in the tune of the song and now it’s stuck in your head. Isn’t it?

Sucks, no? Getting that song stuck in your mind and humming it all day and getting weird glances from everyone around you? Ever wondered how it happens? We debug the science for you.

It’s called an Earworm, borrowed from the German word Ohrwurm.

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No, it’s not an actual insect who poops musical notes in your head. It’s more to do with a ‘musical itch’ of your brain that happens when you hear a catchy piece of music. This itch is actually the re-activation of your Auditory Cortex (AC), a part of your brain which is responsible for processing audio information. When you listen to a song for the first time, the Auditory Cortex is activated. When you think about the song, or imagine hearing it, or read about it, the AC is re-activated and that part keeps resonating in your brain.

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Scratching that itch will make it worse. Stop repeating the song.

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When you’ve heard a song enough times, it qualifies for being an earworm. People say that listening to the song in its entirety will make it go away. But it’s like scratching an itch, the more you scratch, the more it will itch. When you hear it for multiple number of times, your brain starts to memorise it and it can then predict what will come next, and hence prepares for that in its idle time. Hence, you keep humming it at unexpected times. In a way, an earworm is your brain rehearsing.

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Blame it on your short-term memory.

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(Even Drake thinks you’re loco! ?) Your brain has an audio-based short-term memory of around 15 to 20 seconds. For a song to be qualifiable as an earworm, it’s catchy part should be ideally 8-10 seconds long. Famous examples include Baby by Justin Beiber, Hotline Bling by Drake, All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor, or Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen (No, I’m not sorry :P). Your long-term memory can also be the culprit. Basically, even if you haven’t heard anything in the recent past, a trigger in your environment or surroundings can remind you of the song, and it can bring it back into your recent bank.

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Studies prove that women get more earworms.

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Surveys over the years have shown that almost 98% of the human population gets affected by earworms at least once in a week. Men and women get affected equally, but women have been proven to find it difficult to get rid of them longer than men. People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and musicians have also shown to suffer from this syndrome, also known as stuck song syndrome.

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How do I make it go away, PLEASE TELL ME!?

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Many studies by scientists around the world have proposed a number of suggestions to alleviate an earworm. The basic fundamental for it is to occupy your brain with something else that will make it use all its available resources. Common suggestions include reading a book, solving a Sudoku puzzle, and also to focus entirely on another song. Research also suggests that if a song has a repetitive pattern, it’s more of a candidate to get stuck in your head. Making the song reach a climax, or break that pattern can also help to get rid of it.

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So worry not, if a song does manage to get stuck in your head, let it. It’s proof that your brain’s short-term memory is working in peak condition. Engage your mind, and it will go away.

What song has gotten stuck in your head?
Tell us in the comments.

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