Why do some songs become earworms?

6 Feb

Earworms are those annoying songs that can’t get out of your head. A more technical name for this phenomenon is Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI).

A recent paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts investigates the common melodic features of earworms:

The results of the present work indicate that features of a song’s
melodic structure, as well as measures of its popularity and recency,
can be useful in predicting whether a song becomes INMI.
These findings contribute to the growing literature on the INMI
experience and serve to increase our general understanding of why
certain songs are spontaneously recalled in the mind over others.

In sum, tunes that become INMI tend to be faster in tempo than
non-INMI tunes. If the melodic contour shape of a melody is
highly congruent with established norms, then it is more likely for
the tune to become INMI. If the melodic contour does not conform
with norms, then it should have a highly unusual pattern of contour
rises and falls to become an INMI tune.

The paper includes this helpful list of the most common earworms:

(1) “Bad Romance,” Lady Gaga

(2) “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie Minogue

(3) “Don’t Stop Believing,” Journey

(4) “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye

(5) “Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon

(6) “California Gurls,” Katy Perry

(7) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen

(8) “Alejandro,” Lady Gaga

(9) “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga

2 Responses to “Why do some songs become earworms?”

  1. Enrique Guerra-Pujol February 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm #

    Love the word “earworm”

  2. Kathy H February 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm #

    I’ve never had any of the above songs stuck in my brain. Now I am afraid to listen to any of them (haha).

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