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The Persistence of Musical Memories: A Descriptive Study of Earworms

Andrea R. Halpern and James C. Bartlett
Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Vol. 28, No. 4 (April 2011), pp. 425-432
DOI: 10.1525/mp.2011.28.4.425
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mp.2011.28.4.425
Page Count: 8
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Abstract

We describe some characteristics of persistent musical and verbal retrieval episodes, commonly known as "earworms." In Study 1, participants first filled out a survey summarizing their earworm experiences retrospectively. This was followed by a diary study to document each experience as it happened. Study 2 was an extension of the diary study with a larger sample and a focus on triggering events. Consistent with popular belief, these persistent musical memories were common across people and occurred frequently for most respondents, and were often linked to recent exposure to preferred music. Contrary to popular belief, the large majority of such experiences were not unpleasant. Verbal earworms were uncommon. These memory experiences provide an interesting example of extended memory retrieval for music in a naturalistic situation.

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