Why we get songs stuck in our heads

Have you ever wondered?

Nothing is more annoying than having a song stuck in your head, the same line repeated over and over... There are often days walking around school I find myself humming a song that I don’t remember listening to, later realising it was playing on the radio when I woke up that morning. This irritating phenomenon –called an Ohrwurm or ear worm in German- is a type of ‘involuntary memory’ and it may have been useful to our evolutionary ancestors. Some scientists believe that before the invention of writing, songs helped people remember and pass on information with melody helping the brain recall the information more easily. In the modern day, our brains may recall music we have heard recently, such as song on the radio or an advertising jingle, even if it had no personal significance, due to our evolutionary ability to retain information in song. There is no ‘cure’ for earworms, but the most popular remedies seem to be thinking about something else or listening to the song in full.

Dr Williamson of Goldsmith’s College, London is currently researching this phenomenon and has set up a site called to collect information from the public about the kind of songs which are more likely to become 'earworms'. Check out the website for more information or to take part in her survey.


By Hannah Sanderson, VI