An efficient and adaptive test of auditory mental imagery

Rebecca W. Gelding, Peter M.C. Harrison, Sebastian Silas, Blake W. Johnson, William F. Thompson, Daniel Müllensiefen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
66 Downloads (Pure)


The ability to silently hear music in the mind has been argued to be fundamental to musicality. Objective measurements of this subjective imagery experience are needed if this link between imagery ability and musicality is to be investigated. However, previous tests of musical imagery either rely on self-report, rely on melodic memory, or do not cater in range of abilities. The Pitch Imagery Arrow Task (PIAT) was designed to address these shortcomings; however, it is impractically long. In this paper, we shorten the PIAT using adaptive testing and automatic item generation. We interrogate the cognitive processes underlying the PIAT through item response modelling. The result is an efficient online test of auditory mental imagery ability (adaptive Pitch Imagery Arrow Task: aPIAT) that takes 8 min to complete, is adaptive to participant’s individual ability, and so can be used to test participants with a range of musical backgrounds. Performance on the aPIAT showed positive moderate-to-strong correlations with measures of non-musical and musical working memory, self-reported musical training, and general musical sophistication. Ability on the task was best predicted by the ability to maintain and manipulate tones in mental imagery, as well as to resist perceptual biases that can lead to incorrect responses. As such, the aPIAT is the ideal tool in which to investigate the relationship between pitch imagery ability and musicality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1201-1220
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number3
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


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