Catching an Earworm Through Movement

Stephanie McCullough Campbell, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Earworms, also known as Involuntary Musical Imagery (INMI), are fragments of music that get stuck on mental replay. This study investigates the hypothesis that overt motorinvolvement (in the form of humming, singing, tapping or moving) and imagined motor involvement (in the form of imagining a continuation to an interrupted melody) induces INMI more frequently than passive music listening. Fourgroups of listeners heard one of four songs known to induce earworms in one of four conditions: full song, no movement; song with abrupt midphrase truncation, no movement; full song with instructions to hum, whistle, or sing along; full song with instructions to dance, tap, or nod along. After listening, all participants completed the same monotonous activity, intended to increase earworm induction by setting up a low attention state. Next, participants were asked to report on any earworms that occurred during the session and answer some general questions. Results suggested that vocal and physical involvement trigger INMI more frequently, but the interruption of a tune does not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-358
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of New Music Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Music


  • action-perception coupling
  • earworms
  • involuntary musical imagery
  • movement
  • music


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