Eli5 – how does a song you haven’t hear in years get stuck in your head?


In case you were wondering the song currently stuck in my head is “The Whole World” by Outkast.

In: 1

This does a pretty good job of explaining. But truth is, we don’t know


For me someone usually says a word or phrase from a line in the song.

For example, if I say to someone “hey, have you seen my car keys” and they say “yeah, over there,

To the left…..”

Someone mentioned it on Reddit as an example…
House of Bamboo by Andy Williams https://youtu.be/dTIq5lm3Bi0

You’re welcome! Lol

Watch out for other people lazily Rickrolling folks

To understand this we need to understand how memory works. Memory doesn’t actually record the events or the data about it. It just is a new path that is created in your brain. Think of it like a new road in your neighborhood. And whenever someone goes through that road (think electric stimulation of that particular pathway in brain) you get to relive that memory.

Now, what determines how strong a memory is?

1) The chances of you remembering something is more is that “road” is wide. If the road can accommodate a lot of cars, more cars go through it and you remind yourself of that memory.

This is like thinking about a road that is often used, has a lot of traffic. Think about memorising. Every day you put effort in memorising something, that path is used often and hence becomes more “wide”

2) More roads are created close to each other in a network. If your neighborhood has roads connecting more houses to the new road, chances are more residents will reach and travel the new road. The longer they use this road, the more preferred it is and it becomes a highway.

That is similar to a memory pathway being created and being linked to other parts. Think about the strongest memories, they often are the ones where you have a ton of different pathways coming together. Often sound, optical, touch, taste, pressure, emotional and so on. When the memory pathway is created as bunch of different paths interconnected, the moment one of the path is triggered, the electric pulse travels to other linked paths paking you remember other aspects of that memory.

Now, coming back to the song:

You probably remember the song because it is linked to many other memories (sensations as well) in your head.

You could have been waking fast, hot day, breezy and sipping cola. The next time you do any or all of these things, those pathways light up in your head. If the memory is strong and we’ll linked to these pathways, it will remind you immediately of the song. But if it is weak, the chances are, you won’t be reminded if you were only walking fast, or sipping cola. This makes you think u forgot about the song for a long time because that pathway is not stimulated. The chances of remembrance is higher if you do all the above. Then you remind yourself about that song.

Ah good question! So memory works by forming pathways of neurons firing in the brain.

It’s like sledding down a hill. The first time, sledding down it creates a path. The second time, the previously created path is the path that you still travel down because it is the path of least resistance. The third time, you travel down the hill even faster because the path is well-formed by now.

So now back to the brain…

Each time you process your senses, a specific pattern of neurons are activated. If the same senses are activated over and over again, the same neuron patterns will be activated over and over. This strengthens that particular firing pattern of neurons, thus forming a “memory”.

So if you were experiencing some sensory perceptions when the song was initially played, the neurons firing are for the song as well as the other senses. So if you feel those senses again, you remember the song as well!

We have, uh, barely any information on how memory works. But it’s being studied right now and I’m pretty sure they’re making progress