Press Releases

Earworms burrow into your head – University of Reading

Release Date : 04 December 2009

If you suffer from those annoying catchy tunes that repeat in your head – you are not alone. Research from psychologists at the University of Reading has shown that these earworms are relatively widespread and for some can be intrusive and persistent.

 Findings published this week showed that virtually any song can become an earworm, although they were often pop music. More than 100 people were asked if they experienced earworms, for how long and the types of tunes heard. There was very little repetition in the list, although some artists were mentioned more than once: Pink Floyd, Justin Timberlake and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

 Dr Philip Beaman and Dr Tim Williams, of the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, undertook the studies to see what makes an idea or thought pop into someone’s head spontaneously and, once lodged, how to get rid if of it before it becomes irritating.

 “We chose music, and earworms in particular, as there has been very little research in this area and yet almost everyone experiences them,” said Dr Beaman. “Simple, repetitive tunes are more likely to get stuck in your head, although there was a lot of variation in the songs people recorded as having this effect.”

 People who described music as being important to them were more likely to experience earworms and for longer periods of time. They also reported them as being more intrusive. An earworm episode can last from just a few minutes to a couple of days, although the average during the study found to be 27 minutes.

 So how do you stop the tune from playing around in your head? The advice is: do nothing. “It seems that the more people try to get rid of an earworm, the more persistent it can become,” said Dr Beaman. “If you try not to think about it, it will go away more quickly.”

 Dr Beaman and Dr Williams plan to extend this research to see if professional musicians experience more earworms and if people who experience earworms less often also have less difficulty with other unwanted and intrusive thoughts. Examples would be worrying if you’ve left the lights on or thinking about food while on a diet.


 For more information please contact Rona Cheeseman on 0118 378 7388, email


Notes to editor

Dr Phil Beaman is available for interview. Please call the press office number above to arrange.

 The paper has been published online:

 C. Philip Beaman and Tim I. Williams, 2009, Earworms (‘stuck song syndrome’): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British Journal of Psychology.

 If you would like a copy of this article, please contact the press office.


The School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at Reading is renowned for its excellence in teaching and research. In the last national Research Assessment Exercise in 2008, 95% of the research produced by academic staff in the department was recognised as of international quality, with over 60% rated as 'internationally excellent' or 'world leading'. It was also awarded the top marks for its teaching with an Excellent rating in the last Teaching Quality Audit.


University of Reading

The University of Reading is rated as one of the top 200 universities in the world (THE-QS World Rankings 2009).


  • The University of Reading is one of the UK’s top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly £10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university’s research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.


  • Standards of teaching are excellent - the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2009.  87% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.


  • The University is estimated to contribute £600 million to the local economy annually.


·        University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.


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