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GR8NESS expert Expert Reviewed
Woman staring out of restaurant window thinking about old songs
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Why Do Some Songs Come to Mind Out of Nowhere? 

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You’re brushing your teeth or cooking dinner, and you find yourself humming a song you haven’t heard in months. Or maybe years. It might not have even been a favorite of yours, just popular on the radio at the time. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Why do some old songs come to our minds out of nowhere?

There’s a psychological explanation. It’s known as a mind-pop, and it’s been studied for decades.

What is Mind-Pop?

A mind-pop is a form of involuntary memory that’s based on a previous experience and data that your brain has stored and buried. As they sound, mind-pops happens when, well, things pop into your mind. A psychology professor, George Mandler, coined the term.

Inside a Mind-Pop

It sounds pretty straight forward, but what’s the science behind it? Mind-pops tend only to include small pieces of information. That’s why you might only remember the chorus of a song and not the entire thing from start to finish. It’s similar to how you can recite a line or two from a movie, but not the entire script.

These large amounts of information are too much for our brain to keep in its back pocket, but the small phrases within them are not.

Why Do Mind-Pops Seem to Happen Randomly?

While you may think that the old song you’re suddenly remembering has come to mind randomly, science says otherwise. Dr. Lia Kvavilashvili, a psychology professor, became fascinated by the occurrences and started to develop theories surrounding why they happen.

What Mandler and Kvavilashvili have discovered since their research began in the mid-1990s is that these intrusive thoughts, or songs, in this case, are controlled by hidden “strings” deep inside our complex minds. They’re more likely to pop up when you’re doing something that requires low levels of concentration- like brushing your teeth.

How Our Minds Recall Old Songs

It’s now widely believed that these micro-memories, or mind-pops, are brought to the surface by experiences that are connected to the song we suddenly recall. Now it’s starting to get a little more complicated, so stay with me here.

The Mind-Pops Studies

In the studies conducted by Mandler and Kvavilashvili, they found that mind-pops aren’t related to experiences in the way we might believe. Some people think that they recall a song because of the weather, or a person they were with when they first heard it.

This may be the case, but that isn’t an old song that comes to mind from nowhere. That’s a song that has come to mind from somewhere. These seemingly unrelated songs that come into our minds when we’re least expecting them are likely communicated to our brains subliminally.

The Brain Element

You may not have encountered a tie to the song within the past hour or even the past day. It’s possible, for example, that you watched a TV show set in Alabama last week, and this week you suddenly remember “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynrd.

These connections are entirely subconscious and can be virtually impossible to identify because the connections can be so vague. However, it’s fascinating to challenge yourself to find the cue.

GR8NESS readers, how interesting is that?

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Anne
GR8NESS Writer
Anne is a GR8NESS Contributing Writer, covering mental health, self-development, body, health, and pet care. She believes that self-betterment comes from addressing all aspects of the mind, body, and soul. When she’s not writing, you will definitely find her giving her dog belly rubs and reading the first half of every book she buys.
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