We finally know how songs get stuck in our heads

We all know what it’s like to have a song stuck in our heads. Getting a catchy melody off our minds can take weeks, the notes coming out every time we shower, do chores, or get in the car.

And now, we actually know how songs get stuck in our heads.

In a large-scale study (and the first of its kind, according to TIME), researchers found that specific patterns in tempo and melody make some songs catchier than others.

Dr. Kelly Jakubowski led the study, published by the American Psychological Association. Researchers asked 3,000 people in the United Kingdom what song gets stuck in their head the most, and then compared the components of the songs to other chart toppers. Researchers assumed frequent radio play to be a large factor in making a song an earworm, but that wasn’t always the case.

“We now also know that, regardless of the chart success of a song, there are certain features of the melody that make it more prone to getting stuck in people’s heads like some sort of private musical screensaver, said Jakubowski. 

Songs most likely to get stuck in your head, the study found, have upbeat tempos and easy-to-remember melodies. That, combined with something just unique enough to make it special (like repetition or leaps of notes), makes a song unforgettable. Jakubowski used “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple and “My Sharona” by the Knack as examples.


So next time you annoy your coworkers by humming the same tune all day, don’t feel bad. It’s science.