Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features and Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery

Jakubowski, Kelly; Finkel, S.; Stewart, Lauren and Müllensiefen, Daniel. 2017. Dissecting an Earworm: Melodic Features and Song Popularity Predict Involuntary Musical Imagery. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 11(2), pp. 122-135. ISSN 1931-3896 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The experience of involuntary musical imagery (INMI or “earworms”)—having a tune spontaneously enter and repeat in one’s mind—can be attributed to a wide range of triggers, including memory associations and recent musical exposure. The present study examined whether a song’s popularity and melodic features might also help to explain whether it becomes INMI, using a dataset of tunes that were frequently named as INMI by 3,000 survey participants. It was found that songs that had achieved greater success and more recent runs in the UK Music Charts were reported more frequently as INMI. A set of 100 of these frequently named INMI tunes were then matched to 100 tunes never named as INMI by the survey participants, in terms of popularity and song style. These two groups of tunes were compared using 83 statistical summary and corpus-based melodic features and automated classification techniques. INMI tunes were found to have more common global melodic contours and less common average gradients between melodic turning points than non-INMI tunes, in relation to a large pop music corpus. INMI tunes also displayed faster average tempi than non-INMI tunes. Results are discussed in relation to literature on INMI, musical memory, and melodic “catchiness”.

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involuntary musical imagery, earworms, melodic memory, automatic music analysis, involuntary memory

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22 September 2016Accepted
3 November 2016Published Online

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Date Deposited:

04 Jan 2017 12:59

Last Modified:

24 Feb 2020 14:31

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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