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

Kelly Jakubowski (Lead / Corresponding author), Nicolas Farrugia, Andrea R. Halpern, Sathish K. Sankarpandi, Lauren Stewart

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)
    180 Downloads (Pure)


    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.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1229-1242
    Number of pages14
    JournalMemory and Cognition
    Issue number8
    Early online date30 Jun 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


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

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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