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When Your Ear Has Worms

WARNING: Seriously, if you truly get bothered by songs that run through your head over and over again, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this blog.

“It’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…”  Can you hear the melody in your head? You get in one of those boats at Disney Land and the song plays over and over and over again. Now do you hear it? Okay, if you don’t have access to small children, then maybe you can’t remember the melody. Let’s try some others.

Have you been to a wedding in the last 30 years? At the reception the band leader or DJ makes a few remarks encouraging everyone to get up and dance, then the music comes on and everyone starts swinging and contorting their bodies to: “Y.M.C.A. It’s fun to go to the Y.M.C.A….” or how about “Macarena.” Advertizers work hard to deliver short melodies that stick in your head. “I love my baby back, baby back . . . ”

Scientists like to label everything. Those melodies that get stuck in your head are called earworms. Gross–imagine a slimy worm slithering around your brain singing “Y.M.C.A.” while you’re trying to concentrate on something else. Why do we bring this up? Earworms are quite a bit like obsessional thoughts. Like obsessions, the melodies tend to pop into your mind unannounced, take your attention, are not especially desired and sometimes even a little distressing. Like those with obsessive thoughts, people with earworms try unsuccessfully to supress them. But, the more you try to get rid of unwanted tunes or an obsessive thoughts, the louder they get and the more often they come back. And earworms, like obsessive thoughts crop up more often when people are worried. Earworms, like obsessive thoughts, fade the more you can accept that they will be there at times and refuse to give them a whole lot of meaning.

So,are there earworm exterminators? Nope. Once you have an earworm it tends to stick around for awhile. Some people try to find another melody to play in their head. Others attempt to give their earworms to someone else. So, here–have an earworm…Y.M.C.A….

When Your Ear Has Worms

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). When Your Ear Has Worms. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Mar 2009
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