“Yeah you can start over you can run free

You can find other fish in the sea

You can pretend it’s meant to be

But you can’t stay away from me…”

For a long time, this song was on my head 24*7, it never left and followed me anywhere I go. The most intriguing thing was that only the above-mentioned part of the song was repeatedly playing inside my mind instead of the complete song. After some time, it went away but not my curiosity. I researched and found, this phenomenon is known as earworms.

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Almost 90% of the world’s population encounter earworms at least once a week and it’s completely normal. Don’t worry, these earworms are not mind-eating bacteria living inside your head but are the flashes of song that our mind unconsciously remembers. It squirms when you least expect it, like while cooking food, brushing teeth, or rearranging your wardrobe. Once these earworms are struck, they can repeat uncontrollably for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks. But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?

Snippets of music that pops uninvited in your head

The term earworms was first coined by Germans more than a hundred year ago. Scientists named the phenomenon “stuck tune syndrome” or “musical imagery repetition.” The study suggests that earworms correlate to music exposure, and could also be triggered by a memory of the song. Both men and women experience it equally however earworms in women tend to last longer. Songs with lyrics make up to 73.7% of earworms, while instrumental songs make only 7.7%.


Earworms can be formed by both positive and negative music depending upon the time you heard it on repetition. But the earworms born out of negative music become more distressed and produce anger. There are also so-called “cure songs” or “cure tunes” to get the earworm out of one’s head. One song that precisely became the cure song for the British was  “God Save the Queen”. Simply, earworms are a special form of auditory imagery because they are involuntary.

Recalling our favorite tunes or reimagining the lyrics of real catchy songs are part of inner happiness but an earworm is different. It is the music that you may not like particularly but still keep jingling inside your head. In this era with ready to listen music anywhere anytime, experiencing earworms is quite common and predictable. They can be pleasing at a time but could also become intrusive. Many singers and songwriters use to create earworms in order to gain more profit.

And while it is easy to create one, squashing them is not so easy. There are many ways to squash earworms including listening to other songs or completing the whole song to the end. Another way is to focus on something else that requires your attention like writing or reading because earworms forms in inattentive states. A study found, that the harder the people try to stop them, the longer they last. TV and radio ads are a common source of earworms.

What is the science behind it?

Earworms are mostly formed in the auditory cortex, the part of the temporal lobe of our brain. This part of the brain is responsible for analyzing music and processing the sounds, including earworms. This part is also responsible for storing music. It plays a critical role in our ability to perceive sound. In essence, the auditory cortex works like your imaginary mp3 player!


A decade ago, there were no frequent means of listening to music, thus the phenomenon of earworms was not common. However, with time this has changed as radio, mobile phones, television, and the internet are easily accessible and people listen to music all the time. So, now the earworms are constant just like the internet.

Researchers are still puzzled as to why songs become earworms and the subject has been a keen topic of interest since then. According to them, people have an incredible memory for music. For instance, you probably remember childhood melodies but struggles to recall a simple math formula. This proves that music helps us remember facts and details of anything more easily.

Yet the basic fact remains, we don’t know exactly why we’re susceptible to earworms. Maybe with time, these small clues can help us determine the true reason.

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