Here's Why You Can't Stop Listening To The Same Song On Repeat

Photo: Courtesy of Universal.
Ever since the soundtrack for Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again hit Spotify about a month ago, it has been playing on repeat in my earbuds and on my apartment speakers. I listen to it on my morning commute. I listen to it while I'm meal prepping. I'm listening to it as I write this article. You get the point.
Given my tendency to obsess over things (you'd be hard-pressed to find something I like just the appropriate, regular amount), it's not a surprise that when I find a song — or multiple songs — that I like, I'll listen to them until I become sick of them.
Advertisement
There's no one answer as to why people do this, but Alice Honig, PhD, professor emerita at Syracuse University who researches child development and human behavior, says that part of it may be that the song you have on repeat resonates with you somehow.
If you're in a gloomy mood and you've just gone through a breakup, for example, you might listen to something that makes you want to rip your heart out even more, because it reflects your mood and lets you know that someone else at some point was going through something similar to what you're going through.
"The same sad song playing over and over can heal the pain, and it feels as if you’re not the only one who suffered this loss or breakup or emotional distress," Dr. Honig says.
And on the other hand, if you're in a good mood, a feel-good song (like, might I suggest, "Dancing Queen") can elevate that mood, or even put you in a happy place when you aren't necessarily feeling all that great.

When you listen to a song over and over again, it can help you do some reflective listening.

Alice Honig, PhD
Because music is so tied to our emotions, Dr. Honig says, the song you're listening to might be getting you through a rough time, or even helping you get more in touch with what you're feeling. In fact, a study from earlier this year out of the University of Michigan found that people listen to songs on a loop because of how the song made them feel, with most of the study's participants choosing to listen to bittersweet songs that were likely to evoke the most emotions.
Advertisement
"When you listen to a song over and over again, it can help you do some reflective listening to think, What are some of my feelings that this song is helping me get in tune with?" she says.
But beyond that emotional factor, some songs are just plain catchy, designed to make you listen to them forever. Dr. Honig breaks it down based on the mode of the song, which can be major (cheerier songs) or minor (darker, more dour songs).
"Sometimes if you’re in a sad mood, a minor song just speaks to you, and if you’re in an upbeat mood, a major mode with a catchy beat just makes you feel even more up," Dr. Honig says.
Whatever the reason, it's totally normal to get fixated on a song and play it out over and over again until you're tired of it. Miraculously, that hasn't happened for me and the Mamma Mia soundtrack yet, but when it does, I'll probably move on to Cher's ABBA cover album.
Advertisement

More from Mind

Watch

R29 Original Series