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Inducing positive involuntary mental imagery in everyday life: an experimental investigation

Pages 1157-1172
Received 09 Mar 2020
Accepted 04 Sep 2020
Published online: 27 Sep 2020


Positive involuntary mental imagery occurs frequently in daily life but evidence as to its functions and importance is largely indirect. The current study investigated a method to induce positive involuntary imagery in daily life, which would allow direct testing of its impact. An unselected student sample (N = 80) completed a single session of a positive imagery cognitive bias modification (CBM) paradigm, which involved listening to and imagining brief positive imagery scripts. Participants then recorded any involuntary memories of the imagined training scenarios in a three-day diary before returning to the lab for a follow-up assessment. Participants were randomised to imagine the scenarios in either an emotionally involved or emotionally detached manner, providing a test of the role of emotion in the subsequent experience of involuntary memories. Participants reported experiencing involuntary memories of the training scenarios in their daily life, but the number recorded did not differ between the experimental conditions. Exploratory analyses suggested that more vivid imagery and recall testing were associated with a greater number of involuntary memories. The study highlights the potential of the imagery CBM paradigm to further our understanding of the functions and potential importance of positive involuntary mental imagery in daily life.


We would like to thank Leslie Förtsch, Katharina Lindecke, and Venja Musche for their help with participant recruitment and testing.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Data availability statement

Data, materials (with the exception of standardised questionnaire measures), analysis scripts and pre-print are available on the Open Science Framework at https://osf.io/whk2b/.


1 We note that this order of presentation is different from that in the study protocol, which stated that the star was presented on the screen first, and followed by hearing the sound. This is most likely a mistake in the study protocol.

2 Conducting this analysis instead as a repeated-measures ANOVA with between-subject factor of condition and within-subject factor of time (pre vs. post-training) provided a similar result: a significant interaction of time by condition, F(1,78) = 4.12, p = 0.046, η2 = 0.050, 90% CIs: [0.0005, 0.145]. Decomposing this interaction via paired t-tests indicated a significant increase in positive affect in the emotional condition, M = 4.95, SD = 9.23, t(39.00) = 3.39, p = 0.002, d [95% CIs] = 0.54 [0.08, 0.99], but not in the non-emotional condition, M = 1.12, SD = 7.54, t(39.00) = 0.94, p = 0.351, d [95% CIs] = 0.15 [−0.30, 0.59].

Additional information


This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; http://www.dfg.de/en/) under [grant number WO2018/2-1, MA1116/13-1]; and by the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes under a doctoral scholarship to FW.

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