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Do You Wanna Hear an Earworm?

I’ve had a little music problem lately. I woke up a couple of weeks ago with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” running around in my head.

This on its own isn’t all that strange. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had music in my head. It’s never quiet up there. I get earworms a lot, but they usually last a few hours and fade, to be immediately replaced with something else. No biggie.

This one lasted more than a week.

I tried to shake it loose with completely different songs, similar songs, other Cyndi Lauper songs. Don’t get me wrong — I love Cyndi Lauper. If it had been “True Colors” or “Time After Time,” I probably would have found it a lot less upsetting, but as much as I enjoy hearing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” every now and then, it would be pretty close to my last choice for an earworm.

There’s not much you can do except ride out an earworm if it’s really and truly stuck. Eventually it will fade. You can try crossword puzzles or Sudoku. They’re supposed to help, but I haven’t had much luck.

In fact, I can feel it at the edges of my brain trying to crawl back in right now.

The really interesting thing about this, though, is that there are links between earworms and OCD. My psychiatrist mentioned it during my last visit. I thought it was interesting trivia then, but it became a research topic once my entire life was accompanied by a Cyndi Lauper soundtrack. I was hoping I’d find a way to break free. No luck.

Anyway, back to the interesting bits. Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • Almost everyone experiences an earworm now and then, but musicians and people with OCD and depression have them a lot more frequently. For musicians, it’s simply a hazard of the craft. For people with OCD and depression, it’s associated with low levels of serotonin.
  • Women’s earworms tend to last long and be more irritating. (Learned that from a Straight Dope column in which I found out one woman had the same song stuck in her head off and on for 27 years. At least mine changes!)
  • No one really knows what they are, according to that same Straight Dope column. Some scientists think it’s part of the memory storage process; others think it’s a mild hallucination that leaves listeners aware there’s no music actually playing.
  • They can be associated with higher levels of stress — which makes sense, since my OCD symptoms blew up right around the same time I started humming “They just wanna, just wanna” 24/7, and I’ve been struggling with sleep issues and other stress.

None of that info really helps with getting the song out of my head — at least, not the same way playing the “Frozen” soundtrack on repeat does — but it’s all pretty interesting, I think!

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Do You Wanna Hear an Earworm?

Kyla Cathey

Kyla Cathey is a freelance writer from Galt, California who has been overcoming OCD for the past year, after struggling with it for much of her life.

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APA Reference
Cathey, K. (2015). Do You Wanna Hear an Earworm?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 6, 2019, from


Last updated: 31 Oct 2015
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