Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Differences in Auditory Imagery Self-Report Predict Neural and Behavioral Outcomes

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Differences in Auditory Imagery Self-Report Predict Neural and Behavioral Outcomes

Article excerpt

Mental imagery has been a topic of psychological inquiry for a number of years, with most researchers focusing on visual imagery. However, auditory imagery has recently been studied as a topic in its own right (see Hubbard, 2010 for a review). Auditory imagery has been implicated in a variety of mental processes, such as reality monitoring (Johnson & Raye, 1981), working memory and rehearsal (Rudner, Rönnberg & Hugdahl, 2005; Tinti, Cornoldi, & Marschark, 1997), and hallucinations (Vitrovic & Biller, 2013), as well as musical processing (Crowder, 1989; Cupchik, Phillips, & Hill, 2001; Halpern, 1988a, 1988b). The experience of "hearing" something in one's head is a phenomenologically strong one, particularly for music (Bailes, 2007) and is accompanied by identifiable changes in cerebral blood flow (Halpern & Zatorre, 1999; Zvyagintsev et al., 2013) as well as neural electrical signal (Schaefer, Vlek, & Desain, 2011).

One aspect common to many of these studies is that performance is usually averaged over all the participants in a study. Sometimes group differences, particularly with regard to musical training, are examined. For instance, Aleman, Nieuwenstein, Böcker, and de Haan (2000b) found that musicians were superior to nonmusicians in both musical and nonmusical auditory imagery tasks, but not in a visual imagery task. However, individual differences in auditory imagery at a finer level have not typically been addressed.

In contrast, individual differences in visual imagery have been studied extensively, most commonly by self-report measures such as the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ; Marks, 1973). This questionnaire is designed to elicit self-report measures of visual imagery vividness, and has been used in hundreds of studies either probing differences in reported imagery ability for different participant groups or assessing the predictive value of self-reported imagery for more objective tasks presumed to require imagery. McKelvie (1995) reviewed both reliability and validity of the VVIQ in a large meta-analysis. Reliability as measured by internal consistency was quite good. Predictive validity, on the other hand, seems to vary by type of task. As examples, VVIQ scores predict reasonably well performance on tasks such as memory for visual detail, but not performance on mental rotation tasks. Kozhevnikov, Kozhevnikov, Yu, and Blazhenkova (2013) link vividness to one aspect of visual imagery skill called object visualization; this predicts artistic creativity-in contrast to spatial visualization, which predicts scientific creativity.

Similar questions about individual variability are of potential interest to auditory imagery researchers. For instance, Aleman, Nieuwenstein, Böcker, and de Haan (2000a) compared the imagery abilities of nonpsychotic individuals who report occasional verbal hallucinations to those of nonhallucinators. Hallucinators reported more vivid visual imagery on the VVIQ than nonhallucinators. Barrett (1993) found a similar result using the visual vividness subscale of Betts' (1909) Questionnaire Upon Mental Imagery or QMI (see more below). On the other hand, both studies reported that the two groups did not differ on self-reported vividness of auditory imagery using the auditory subscale of the QMI.

Despite this interest in documenting individual differences in auditory imagery, scales for capturing this ability have been slow to develop. An early attempt to index individual differences was Betts' (1909) QMI, which assesses imagery in seven sensory modalities, including audition. The QMI presents people with written descriptions, using visual, auditory, or other sensory detail, and asks them to rate the vividness of their mental images of certain aspects of the descriptions. Participants use a 7-point rating scale for vividness and clarity, ranging from "perfectly clear and vivid as the actual experience" to "no image present at all. …

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