The Idiosyncrasy of Involuntary Musical Imagery Repetition (IMIR) Experiences: The Role of Tempo and Lyrics

Liptak, Taylor A.; Omigie, D and Floridou, Georgia A.. 2021. The Idiosyncrasy of Involuntary Musical Imagery Repetition (IMIR) Experiences: The Role of Tempo and Lyrics. Music Perception, ISSN 0730-7829 [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Involuntary Musical Imagery Repetition (IMIR), colloquially known as “earworms”, is a form of musical imagery that arises involuntarily and repeatedly in the mind. A growing number of studies, based on retrospective reports, suggest that IMIR experiences are associated with certain musical features, such as fast tempo and the presence of lyrics, and with individual differences in music-related training and engagement. However, research to date has not directly assessed the effect of such musical features on IMIR and findings about individual differences in music-related training and engagement are mixed. Using a cross-sectional design (Study 1, n = 263), we examined IMIR content in terms of tempo (fast, slow) and presence of lyrics (instrumental, vocal), and IMIR characteristics (frequency, duration of episode and section) in relation to (i) the musical content (tempo and lyrics) individuals most commonly expose themselves to (music-listening habits) and (ii) music-related training and engagement. We also used an experimental design (Study 2, n = 80) to test the effects of tempo (fast or slow) and the presence of lyrics (instrumental or vocal) on IMIR retrieval and duration. Results from Study 1 showed that the content of music that individuals are typically exposed to with regard to tempo and lyrics predicted and resembled their IMIR content, and that music-related engagement, but not musical training, predicted IMIR frequency. Musical training was, however, shown to predict the duration of IMIR episodes. In the experiment (Study 2), tempo was not found to be a significant predictor of IMIR retrieval, but the presence of lyrics influenced IMIR duration. Taken together, our findings suggest that IMIR is an idiosyncratic experience primed by the music-listening habits and music-related engagement of the individual.

Item Type:



involuntary musical imagery repetition, “earworms”, tempo, lyrics

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



27 August 2021Accepted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

28 Sep 2021 16:11

Last Modified:

29 Sep 2021 05:57

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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