Why Internet Users Are Putting Hangers on Their Heads…Again

The "Hanger Challenge" purportedly induces a head reflex, so we tried it

A light green clothes hanger on an orange background.

From unexpectedly scrumptious feta pasta recipes to sex hacks that surprisingly work, TikTok is a breeding ground for some unique, slightly hazardous viral trends that aren’t all entirely bullshit. The latest trend taking over the video-sharing platform, however, has me skeptical.

The Hanger Challenge is a pretty simple, extremely silly-looking challenge that involves stretching a clothes hanger open and placing it onto your head so it squeezes both sides. The challenge actually emerged in the summer of 2020, back when we had nothing to do besides play around with clothes hangers. For whatever reason, it made its resurgence recently.

The purpose? To test something called the “hanger reflex.” Supposedly when you place a hanger on your head in this manner your head will involuntarily turn either to the right or left, as seen in some of these TikTok videos of users participating in the challenge.


@danawang @abbie151 Gotta admit…I had zero faith in you two 🤣 #coathangerchallenge I really hope that hashtag is related to this 🧐

♬ Kasi.mck The Hanger Reflex – Goat Whisperer

Obviously, these videos look easy to fake, and surely some of them are, but there is a little bit of evidence to prove the hanger reflex is legit.

According to a small 2015 study conducted in Japan, the unexpected head turn happens when pressure is applied to the unilateral frontotemporal region of the brain. The study involved “120 healthy Japanese adults aged 19-65 years” and found that in “85.4% of the trials, head rotation was observed in the direction that coincided with the side compressed by the hanger.”

Per the findings, gender did not play a factor and the study concluded by noting that further research was needed to understand the underlying causes of the hanger reflex, which could be a potential treatment for cervical dystonia — a painful condition where neck muscles contract involuntarily, forcing the head to turn to one side. Still, the remarkably high incident rate likely means most humans can experience the reflex, the study stated.

Because I am a journalist, I did squeeze a clothes hanger onto my head to test the reflex. My observations are as followed:

  1. That shit hurt! Likely because my head is big and I used a pretty inflexible plastic hanger.
  2. Once settled onto my large noggin, my head did not dramatically turn like in the videos above.
  3. However, due to the pressure of the hanger, I could tell my head was turning slightly to the right. When I further turned my head marginally in that direction, my head did sway more reflexively to the right. So again, while my experience was not as sensational as some of these viral TikToks, the trend isn’t total nonsense (I think?).
  4. The Japanese study also used a wire hanger, which I do not have. So there’s a possibility I did not have the correct materials or technique to test the reflex. Or maybe my head is just too damn big.

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