The speed of our mental soundtracks: Tracking the tempo of involuntary musical imagery in everyday life

Jakubowski, Kelly; Farrugia, Nicolas; Halpern, Andrea R.; Sankarpandi, Sathish K. and Stewart, Lauren. 2015. The speed of our mental soundtracks: Tracking the tempo of involuntary musical imagery in everyday life. Memory & Cognition, 43(8), pp. 1229-1242. ISSN 0090-502X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The study of spontaneous and everyday cognitions is an area of rapidly growing interest. One of the most ubiquitous forms of spontaneous cognition is involuntary musical imagery (INMI), the involuntarily retrieved and repetitive mental replay of music. The present study introduced a novel method for capturing temporal features of INMI within a naturalistic setting. This method allowed for the investigation of two questions of interest to INMI researchers in a more objective way than previously possible, concerning (1) the precision of memory representations within INMI and (2) the interactions between INMI and concurrent affective state. Over the course of 4 days, INMI tempo was measured by asking participants to tap to the beat of their INMI with a wrist-worn accelerometer. Participants documented additional details regarding their INMI in a diary. Overall, the tempo of music within INMI was recalled from long-term memory in a highly veridical form, although with a regression to the mean for recalled tempo that parallels previous findings on voluntary musical imagery. A significant positive relationship was found between INMI tempo and subjective arousal, suggesting that INMI interacts with concurrent mood in a similar manner to perceived music. The results suggest several parallels between INMI and voluntary imagery, music perceptual processes, and other types of involuntary memories.

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This study was funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, reference RPG-297, awarded to author L.S.


Music cognition, Imagery, Involuntary musical imagery, Involuntary memory, Spontaneous cognition, Tempo

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30 June 2015Published Online
1 November 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

01 Apr 2016 18:51

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2021 23:24

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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