Experiencing earworms: An interview study of Involuntary Musical Imagery

Williamson, Victoria J. and Jilka, Sagar R. 2014. Experiencing earworms: An interview study of Involuntary Musical Imagery. Psychology of Music, 42(5), pp. 653-670. ISSN 0305-7356 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Involuntary musical imagery (INMI) is a ubiquitous cognitive phenomenon. The present study comprises six intensive interviews that examine the subjective phenomenology of INMI for individuals of varying musical experience. Grounded theory analysis was used to establish themes regarding both the form and feelings ascribed to INMI episodes. All the respondents felt that their INMI experiences had high fidelity including some complex musical arrangements. INMI form could be unstable over time according to cognitive demands. Individuals with musical experience reported concurrent sensations of visual and motor imagery as well as involuntary extemporizations of their INMI. Motivators for positive and negative appraisals of INMI were identified such as nostalgia and entertainment, and repetitive cycling with loss of control, respectively. We discuss interpretations from auditory memory theory and develop hypotheses for future INMI empirical investigation.

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This research was supported by a British Academy Research Grant to VJW (SG090316).


auditory imagery earworms Involuntary Musical Imagery grounded theory musical experience

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September 2014Published

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Date Deposited:

29 Oct 2014 12:39

Last Modified:

11 Nov 2014 14:22

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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