University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


The term “earworm,” also known as Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI), refers to the phenomenon of an un-controllably repeating melody in one’s head. Though ubiquitous, it is comparatively under-researched in music cognition. Most existing studies have identified the defining characteristics of earworms, rather than explore their underlying mechanisms. This study investigates the hypothesis that overt motor involvement (humming, singing, tapping) and imagined motor involvement (imagining a continuation to an interrupted melody) will induce INMI more frequently than passive music listening. Four groups of participants were given instructions for different types of responses while listening to music; then they completed the same monotonous activity. After the music-listening and visual tasks were over, participants were asked to report on any earworms that occurred during the session and answer general questions about earworm experience. Results indicated that vocal and physical involvement, but not an interrupted tune, increased the frequency of triggered INMI.