The Involuntary Musical Imagery Scale (IMIS)

In this section


Involuntary musical imagery (INMI; or “earworms”) describes the experience whereby a short section of music comes into the mind, spontaneously, without effort, and then repeats without conscious control [1].

INMI is a common phenomenon experienced by more than 90% of the people at least once a week [2]. Studies to date have focused on demographic and lifestyle factors [2-4] related to INMI, and individual differences [5-8].
We identified the need to develop an instrument that would capture and measure multiple aspects of the INMI experience. The Involuntary Musical Imagery Scale (IMIS) is a self-report scale consisted of 15 items that serves that purpose. IMIS was developed based on data from 2315 individuals. Initial research by Floridou, Williamson, Stewart & Müllensiefen (2015) demonstrates adequate internal reliability and validity, including concurrent validity. Its four factors are designed to measure individual differences and similarities across a range of behaviors, emotions, reactions and evaluations related to INMI.  The four factors are as follows:

  • Negative Valence: Subjective evaluation of INMI experiences
  • Movement: Embodied responses related to INMI experiences
  • Personal Reflections: Personal qualities associated with INMI experiences
  • Help: Beneficial and constructive aspects of INMI experience

You can download and use the IMIS for free. If you use it, please quote the appropriate reference: Floridou, G. A., Williamson, V. J., Stewart, L., & Müllensiefen, D. (2015). The Involuntary Musical Imagery Scale (IMIS). Psychomusicology: Music, Mind and Brain, 25(1),
If you want to find out more about the IMIS and how it was developed you can follow this link to access the paper, published in a musical imagery special issue of Psychomusicology: Music, Mind and Brain (PMMB). If you would like a copy of the paper and/ or more detail on the scoring system then please contact Georgina Floridou at
IMIS is a novel, reliable and validated instrument that allows for systematic measurement of multiple, distinct aspects of the INMI experience. We envisage that the scale will be of use to researchers who aim to understand the origins of the INMI experience, as well as the commonalities and differences between INMI and other forms of spontaneous cognition, in terms of phenomenology and possible function.


  1. Williamson, V. J., Jilka, S. R., Fry, J., Finkel, S., Mullensiefen, D., & Stewart, L. (2012). How do ‘‘earworms’’ start? Classifying the everyday circumstances of involuntary musical imagery. Psychology of Music, 40, 259–284.
  2. Liikkanen, L. A. (2012). Musical activities predispose to involuntary musical imagery. Psychology of Music, 40, 236–256. 
  3. Hyman, I. E. Jr., Burland, N. K., Duskin, H. M., Cook, M. C., & Roy, C. M. (2013) Going Gaga: Investigating, creating, and manipulating the song stuck in my head. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27 (2): 204–215. doi: 10.1002/acp.2897.
  4. Beaman, C. P., & Williams, T. I. (2010). Earworms (stuck song syndrome): towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British Journal of Psychology, 101(4), 637-653.
  5. Floridou, G. A., Williamson, V. J., & Müllensiefen, D. (2012, July). Contracting earworms: The roles of personality and musicality. In E. Cambouropoulos, C. Tsougras, P. Mavromatis, & K. Pastiadis (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition and the 8th Triennial Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences Of Music, Thessaloniki, Greece, 516–518.
  6. Müllensiefen, D., Fry, J., Jones, R., Jilka, S. R., Stewart, L., & Williamson, V. J. (2014a). Individual differences predict patterns in spontaneous involuntary musical imagery. Music Perception, 31(4), 323–338, ISSN 0730-7829, doi:10.1525/MP.2014.31.4.323.
  7. Beaman, C. P., & Williams, T. I. (2013). Individual differences in mental control predict involuntary musical imagery. Musicae Scientiae, 17(4), 398-409 doi.
  8. Wammes, M., & Barušs, I. (2009). Characteristics of spontaneous musical imagery. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(1), 37–61.