UA School of Music Associate Professor Donald Kinser-Traut collaborated with Dan Kruse, a 2012 UA graduate with a Master’s in Ethnomusicology, and Andrew Lotto, Associate Professor in Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences, to conduct a research study on why “ear worms” – the tunes that get stuck in our heads – arrive in our minds, and why they stay there. The researchers found ear worms (also called Involuntary Musical Imagery, or INMI) to be a compelling subject because INMI allows examination into how sensory input, emotion, and brain processes create (and re-create) a perceptual experience.
The study’s goals were to: 1) examine INMI using an innovative, interdisciplinary model that drew upon music cognition, music theory, and the reported human experience of ear worms and 2) to attempt to discern the factors that cause INMI to persist over time (as contrasted with previous studies, many of which had focused on uncovering events or circumstances which precipitate INMI).
Over 400 people completed the online questionnaire, and the team interviewed two dozen subjects at the UA’s Audio Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory, in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. The data revealed statistically significant findings, correlating things such as subjects’ frequency or intensity of INMI with their perceptual strengths related to musical melody, harmony, and rhythm.
The researchers complied a database of “song snippets” reported by the interviewees, which uncovered some interesting, if preliminary, findings. Specifically, roughly a third of the reported song snippets display a “sentence structure” most easily described as “short-short-long” (in both simple and compound forms) which may be quite revealing in terms of compositional style and technique of both popular songs and other musical genres.
The team created a documentary, Tracks, which was screened at the International Society for the Quantitative Study of Music and Medicine conference in Philadelphia in July 2015, and gave several public and academic presentations (including Confluencenter’s Show & Tell @ Playground) on their research findings.
10.14.15: An Infestation of ‘Ear Worms’ UANews
09.29.15: Songs Stuck on Repeat Zocalo Magazine
04.15.15: Got Ear Worms? Arizona Daily Star
Last updated on March 16, 2017.