Show Details

Sticky Music

January 30, 2008

A listener asks: Why do songs get stuck in our heads?


Songs you can’t get rid of. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Kelly of Eugene, Oregon wrote to ask why popular tunes get stuck in our heads. We turned to cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Levitin of McGill University. He says relatively little work has been done on the neural mechanisms underlying our memory for these songs, which he says are called ear worms.

DANIEL LEVITIN (McGill University):
We don’t know why songs get stuck in the head but we know something about the ones that do. They tend to be short little pieces, they tend to be relatively simple, melodically and rhythmically, so people aren’t typically running around with Mahler’s 5th Symphony, but it’s more likely "It’s a Small World After All" that get stuck in there.

So more work is needed. But really, who would want to do it? If you have a science question, call us at 1-800-whyisit. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.