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The role of engagement and visual imagery in music listening

Presicce, Graziana


Graziana Presicce


Helen M. Prior

Alastair, 1964 Borthwick


This thesis investigates music' responses to a selection of complete nineteenth and twentieth century piano works, with respect to their levels of musical engagement (heightened attention and interest towards the music; Olsen, Dean & Stevens, 2014) and their experience of music-induced visual imagery. Although engagement and visual imagery have been increasingly explored over the past two decades, little work has investigated the relationship between the two. Potential links, however, exist: for instance, the way visual imagery is described as one of the key mechanisms underlying listeners' emotional responses to music (Juslin et al., 2013). This thesis draws upon three different methodological approaches: two exploratory studies empirically investigate listeners' responses quantitatively, as well as qualitatively; the third study, a self-reflective account, draws upon the researcher's personal visual imagery experience as a performer.

In the two empirical studies, listeners provided continuous self-report measures of their engagement with the music, as well as the occurrence of any visual imagery during listening. Time series analyses revealed that engagement with the music was significantly associated with the experience of visual imagery; this was the case in both Studies 1 and 2. Granger causality tests were carried out to investigate the details of this relationship: overall, engagement mostly predicted visual imagery in Study 1; whilst a bidirectional relation of the series emerged more frequently in Study 2. In both studies, however, differences according to the piece and to the musical experience of the listener were apparent. A selection of listeners' individual differences (such as musical experience) are also reported, with respect to engagement and visual imagery responses. A thematic analysis of the qualitative data, collected through free written annotations and face-to-face interviews, led to the emergence of nine broad ‘visual imagery types’: (1) Arbitrary, (2) Shared Musical Topics, (3) Idiosyncratic Sound Associations, (4) Emotions, (5) Material Abstraction, (6) Narratives, (7) Performance, (8) Personal Recollections, and (9) Pictorial Associations. Examples of each category, alongside insights into the diverse range of imagery experiences, are provided. Finally, the self- reflective account explores visual imagery from a different perspective: the performer as listener. A pianist's visual imagery experiences are investigated across two contexts: the practice of a piano- duet work, comparing imagery data with that of a second pianist; and practising from memory, exploring the way imagery experiences may change with the absence of the score. Links to the qualitative ‘visual imagery types’ model are drawn throughout this exploration.


Presicce, G. (2019). The role of engagement and visual imagery in music listening. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 13, 2020
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Music
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Music, The University of Hull
Award Date Sep 1, 2019


Thesis (6.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Presicce, Graziana. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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