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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Masters Thesis

Department or Program Affiliation

Experimental Psychology Graduate Program

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Hyman, Ira E.

Second Advisor

Lemm, Kristi M., 1971-

Third Advisor

Jantzen, Kelly J.


This research was conducted to understand the effect of cognitive load on the occurrence of earworms. A go/no go task, a typical mind wandering method, was used to create different levels of cognitive load based on the difficulty of the task. We also used a control condition which more closely matched previous earworm studies. Both probe-caught and survey reports were used to measure earworms and mind wandering in the study. Earworms were not found to occur more often in the lower experimental levels of cognitive load but controls reported spending more time with earworms. This finding is mostly inconsistent with research on mind wandering which occurs in low cognitive load conditions when more resources are available. I theorize that earworms may occur with minimal resources where more complex thoughts in mind wandering cannot. Earworms may follow a U-shape continuum where earworms may occur in lower levels of cognitive load but must compete with the opportunity of other mind wandering topics. Future research should aim to use more moderate cognitive load tasks to better understand when the occurrence of earworms increases on the lower end of the cognitive load spectrum.




Cognitive Load, Involuntary Thought, Musical Imagery, Mind Wandering, Mindwandering, Earworms


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Music--Psychological aspects; Imagery (Psychology); Thought suppression; Cognitive consistency




masters theses




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