York Music Psychology Group

Research to explain and understand musical behaviour and experience.

Research Seminar: Kelly Jakubowski

Event Details

‘Why is this song stuck in my head? The contribution of musical features to the ‘earworm’ experience.’

The spontaneous mental recall and repetition of music in the ‘mind’s ear’, known as involuntary musical imagery (INMI, or ‘earworms’), is a frequent and ubiquitous experience in the Western world. Despite its widespread prevalence, music psychological enquiry into the mechanisms underlying the INMI experience is relatively recent. Over the past few years, researchers have begun to understand the common triggers of INMI episodes and the contexts in which INMI is most likely to occur, individual differences in personality, musical background, and cognitive styles that predict INMI frequency and reactions to INMI, and effective strategies for alleviating unwanted INMI. My talk will focus primarily on two studies that examined the musical features of INMI and how these can be used to predict when and why certain songs pop into our heads. The first is a computational study that focused on identifying common melodic features across a corpus of pop songs frequently experienced as INMI. The second study implemented methods for measuring the tempo of INMI episodes as they occurred during participants’ daily lives, in order to provide insights on accuracy and stability of recall within involuntary musical memories and how features of INMI relate to concurrent mood states. Taken together, the findings of these studies increase our understanding as to how features of the imagined music itself can contribute to the diversity of experiences reported as INMI.

Find the full paper here: http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2016-53098-001/


Kelly Jakubowski is a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant on an AHRC-funded research grant on “Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance”. This project aims to quantify, describe, and compare interpersonal interactions within musical performances across a wide variety ofcultures and musical styles. Kelly studied Music Performance (violin) and Music Theory for her undergraduate (Baldwin Wallace University, USA) and Masters degrees (Ohio State University, USA). She then pursued an MSc and PhD in music psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her PhD research (completed in 2015) was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and focused on developing new behavioural and computational methods for studying musical imagery and involuntary memory for music (including the phenomenon of having an “earworm”, or tune stuck in one’s head). She has also conducted and published research on absolute pitch, memory for musical pitch and tempo, and emotional responses to music. In 2015, she was awarded the Hickman Early Career Research Award for her PhD research on temporal aspects of involuntary musical imagery, which included a plenary session talk at the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music conference in Manchester, UK. Before joining Durham University, Kelly has worked as a Teaching Fellow in Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and a Visiting Lecturer in Music at King’s College London.