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Inhibiting the Emergence of Involuntary Musical Imagery: Implications for Improving Our Understanding of Intrusive Thoughts

Abstract

Background

Intrusive thoughts are prevalent as a symptom of many psychopathological disorders. Previous studies suggested that inhibitory control enables the suppression of intrusive thoughts, though the existing data is derived mostly from research on intrusive memories. The similarities between involuntary musical imagery (INMI) and intrusive thoughts have prompted the investigation of INMI in order to better understand the underlying mechanisms of such thoughts and how to stop them. Using novel methodologies to induce INMI, the current study examined the role of inhibition, measured using the stop-signal task (SST), in the emergence and prevention of INMI, and consequently, intrusive thoughts.

Methods

Thirty-five participants were asked to listen to a potentially intrusive song and to complete the SST immediately after listening to the song. Participants were assigned to one of two conditions: inhibition or no-inhibition. INMI emergence was monitored after 3, 6, and 24 h via online questionnaires.

Results

Results showed significant differences between the conditions at the 24-h time-point; the participants assigned to the inhibitory condition reported INMI significantly less frequently than participants in the no-inhibition condition.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that INMI can be used as a model for examining intrusive thoughts and that inhibition can decrease the emergence of intrusive thoughts.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Participants who did not complete the follow-up questionnaires properly.

  2. The song is an Israeli (Hebrew) song called METUKA ME’HACHAIM (sweeter than life) by Assi Cohen, which originally appeared on an Israeli sitcom and afterwards went viral and appeared repeatedly on social media.

  3. Several studies suggest that INMI experience differs between musicians vs. non-musicians (Beaty et al. 2013; Hyman et al. 2013; Liikkanen, 2012a, b; Williamson and Jilka 2014).

  4. The 24 h time point measure is common in many IMNI studies (Beaman and Williams 2010; Floridou et al. 2018; Hyman et al. 2013), and thus we designed the study to partially replicate the methodology of these studies.

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Correspondence to Aviv Akerman.

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A. Akerman, H. Naftalovich, L. Akiva-Kabiri, and E. Kalanthroff declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Akerman, A., Naftalovich, H., Akiva-Kabiri, L. et al. Inhibiting the Emergence of Involuntary Musical Imagery: Implications for Improving Our Understanding of Intrusive Thoughts. Cogn Ther Res 44, 885–891 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10608-020-10109-0

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Keywords

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Earworms
  • Involuntary musical imagery
  • Inhibition
  • Cognitive control