What Makes Music Get Stuck In Your Head? Songs With These Characteristics Are More Likely To Stick Around
You can turn a radio off, but that doesn't mean you're done listening to music. If you've ever wondered what makes music get stuck in your head, you're not the only one — being unable to shake an earworm is a universal experience. You've probably noticed that some songs are more likely to get stuck in your head than others, whether you like it or not. Recently, researchers looked into what makes these songs so darn catchy, and they found that some common earworms share oddly specific characteristics.
In a study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, asked 3,000 participants to list the songs that got stuck in their head most frequently. The results were compared to songs that hadn't been listed as earworms but were similar in style and popularity in the United Kingdom. According to Science Daily, when researchers analyzed the compositions of all the songs, they found that earworms tended to be similar in some ways.
For one thing, a song was more likely to be listed as an earworm if they had "more common global melodic contours" — in other words, if they followed a common pattern in Western music, like the rise-and-fall melodies of nursery rhymes. Another important characteristic was a unique melodic structure; a song that's likely to get stuck in your head might repeat notes, for example, in a way that you wouldn't expect based on other pop songs.
Songs that were listed as earworms were more popular and had appeared more recently on the U.K. music charts. The latter makes sense given that prior research has found that hearing a song is more likely to get stuck in your head if you've heard it recently. Additionally, earworms tended to possess a faster beat than non-earworms.
An earworm doesn't have to have all these characteristics, but the songs that appeared most frequently on the list tend to follow these patterns. According to researchers, the most common earworms included "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5, and, appropriately, Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head." As usual, Lady Gaga was the star of the show: Three of her songs — "Bad Romance," "Poker Face," and "Alejandro" — appeared in the list of the top 10 most common earworms in the study.
Now that one of those songs has inevitably gotten stuck in your head, how are you supposed to get it out? The study's lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, has three suggestions, according to Science Daily: Try not to think about it, distract yourself with a different song, or just give in and listen to the song in its entirety.
I would apologize for getting "Moves Like Jagger" stuck in your head, but that implies it hasn't been lurking in the back of everyone's minds since 2011.