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Durham University



Publication details for Professor Tuomas Eerola

Küssner, M. B. & Eerola, T. (2019). The Content and Functions of Vivid and Soothing Visual Imagery during Music Listening: Findings from a Survey Study. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain 29(2-3): 90-99.

Author(s) from Durham


Studies have suggested that visual imagery forms an important part of the listening experience and might be one of the mechanisms by which music induces emotions in a listener. However, little is known about the content, prevalence, and function of visual imagery during music listening. To that end, an online survey was constructed to explore music-related visual imagery. This included 24 statements about visual imagery based on previous research and an open question regarding the content of their inner images. Several standardized questionnaires (Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire and Goldsmiths Musical Sophistication Index) were included as well to investigate the link to visual imagery in non-musical contexts and across individuals with various levels of musical training. In total, 669 participants provided responses to an online survey. A factorial structure of music and visual imagery statements provided a three-factor structure consisting of vivid, soothing, and disruptive visual imagery, although the actual factor structure was nonidentical between the musically trained and untrained respondents. Separate analyses of factors for musically trained and untrained participants yielded a more parsimonious structure of visual imagery, which consisted of vivid and soothing visual imagery. These two factors consistently exhibited different weights across the items; for musically trained participants, vivid imagery was more related to modulating arousal than for untrained participants. The ability to conjure up vivid visual imagery was only weakly related to the presence of music-related visual imagery. A content analysis of the open question revealed common themes that related to a mixture of concrete visual imagery (landscapes, images of people, and scenes from past events) and abstract visual imagery (shapes, objects, and colors). Implications of these findings for further studies on music-induced emotions are discussed with a focus on a recent constructionist account of emotional meanings in music.