A novel indirect method for capturing involuntary musical imagery under varying cognitive load

Floridou, Georgia A.; Williamson, Victoria J. and Stewart, Lauren. 2016. A novel indirect method for capturing involuntary musical imagery under varying cognitive load. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(11), pp. 2189-2199. ISSN 1747-0218 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Involuntary musical imagery (INMI), i.e the internal experience of a repetitive musical fragment, is one of the most ubiquitous forms of spontaneous cognition. Findings regarding the relationship between INMI and cognitive load are conflicting. In the present study, 200 participants watched and evaluated two non-dialogue, music only film trailers. Subsequently, they either closed their eyes for 5 min (baseline), or engaged in one of three dot tasks of varying challenge and attentional demand (low, medium, and high cognitive load). Finally, they completed a novel “Mind Activity Questionnaire”, which allows for indirect INMI sampling rather than direct questioning. The same questionnaire was completed 24 hours later. Overall, a significant negative linear trend was found. At baseline, 65% of people reported experiencing INMI. This rate decreased to 32.5% in the low load condition with further reductions observed in the medium and high conditions, which did not differ significantly from each other. INMI frequency and duration followed the same pattern as the induction rates. In the 24-hour follow-up, 21% of participants reported INMI experiences. This study supports the hypothesis that INMI occurrence, frequency, and duration relate to spare cognitive capacity and demonstrates an ecologically valid laboratory paradigm for covertly inducing and documenting INMI experiences.

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This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust [grant number RPG-297], awarded to L.S. and a grant from the Experimental Psychology Society awarded to V.J.W. (“Mapping Musical Memory”). G.A.F. was funded through the Programme “Scholarships Following Individualized Evaluation, 2012-2014” of the Greek State Scholarships Foundation, from resources of the Operational Program “Education and Lifelong Learning” of the European Social Fund and the National Strategic Reference Framework, 2007-2013. V.J.W. was funded by a Vice-Chancellor's Fellowship from the University of Sheffield. Center for Music in the Brain (LS) is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation [grant number DNRF117].


Cognitive load, Earworms, Involuntary musical imagery, Spontaneous cognition

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17 August 2016Accepted
4 November 2016Published Online

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02 Mar 2018 11:29

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:44

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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