The pitch imagery arrow task: Effects of musical training, vividness, and mental control

Rebecca W. Gelding, William Forde Thompson, Blake W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Musical imagery is a relatively unexplored area, partly because of deficiencies in existing experimental paradigms, which are often difficult, unreliable, or do not provide objective measures of performance. Here we describe a novel protocol, the Pitch Imagery Arrow Task (PIAT), which induces and trains pitch imagery in both musicians and non-musicians. Given a tonal context and an initial pitch sequence, arrows are displayed to elicit a scale-step sequence of imagined pitches, and participants indicate whether the final imagined tone matches an audible probe. It is a staircase design that accommodates individual differences in musical experience and imagery ability. This new protocol was used to investigate the roles that musical expertise, self-reported auditory vividness and mental control play in imagery performance. Performance on the task was significantly better for participants who employed a musical imagery strategy compared to participants who used an alternative cognitive strategy and positively correlated with scores on the Control subscale from the Bucknell Auditory Imagery Scale (BAIS). Multiple regression analysis revealed that Imagery performance accuracy was best predicted by a combination of strategy use and scores on the Vividness subscale of BAIS. These results confirm that competent performance on the PIAT requires active musical imagery and is very difficult to achieve using alternative cognitive strategies. Auditory vividness and mental control were more important than musical experience in the ability to perform manipulation of pitch imagery.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0121809
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2015
Externally publishedYes


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