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The architect who lost the ability to imagine: The cerebral basis of visual imagery


While the loss of mental imagery following brain lesions was first described more than a century ago, the key cerebral areas involved remain elusive. In this study a team of scientists from the Icelandic Vision Lab, Department of Psychology at University of Iceland, report on the neuropsychological data from an architect (PL518) who lost his ability for visual imagery following a bilateral posterior cerebral artery (PCA) stroke. His profile is compared to three other patients with bilateral PCA stroke including another architect. When comparing the neuropsychological profile and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the aphantasic architect PL518 to patients with either a comparable background (an architect) or bilateral PCA lesions, they found: (1) there is a large overlap of cognitive deficits between patients, with the very notable exception of aphantasia which only occurs in PL518, and (2) there is large overlap of the patients’ lesions. The only areas of selective lesion in PL518 is a small patch in the left fusiform gyrus as well as part of the right lingual gyrus. The findings suggest that these areas may play an important role in the cerebral network involved in visual mental imagery.

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Authors need to know about aphantasia: Here’s why


Writer and editor Robert Wood makes a compelling case for why authors need to know about aphantasia, explaining how the best writing advice deals with perception-– the ability to understand how someone else will process your art. In the article Authors Need To Know About Aphantasia: Here’s Why published by Standout Books Publishing Services, Wood explains to authors: “Even if only a few people with aphantasia read your book, it’s still worth knowing that their experience exists. Art is an act of communication, and we create it more successfully when we know about the hurdles between writer and reader.”

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Can you picture things in your head? Well, this guy can’t


Founder of The Aphantasia Network, Tom Ebeyer shares his story of discovery with aphantasia and how he sees his differentness as a source of strength in this CBC Radio podcast produced by Paul Aflalo. Ebeyer shares how it can be a difficult realization, knowing people can do something you can’t. But once he learned there is a name for the way his brain worked — aphantasia — he started to see the strengths. Dr. Adam Zeman, who gave the condition a name back in 2015, makes a guest appearance in an exclusive radio interview. Aphantasic Amanda Jacobs also joins in on the discussion.

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The human imagination: the cognitive neuroscience of visual mental imagery


Mental imagery can be advantageous, unnecessary and even clinically disruptive; claims cognitive neuroscientist Joel Pearson of the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. Research has shown that mental imagery involves a network of brain areas from the frontal cortex to sensory areas, overlapping with the default mode network. Imagery vividness and strength range from completely absent (aphantasia) to photo-like (hyperphantasia). In this review, Joel Pearson discusses recent insights into the neural mechanisms that underlie visual imagery, how imagery can be objectively and reliably measured, and how it affects general cognition.

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The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from Aphantasia


One proposed function of imagery is to make thoughts more emotionally evocative through sensory simulations, but what if you cannot visualize in the mind? Cognitive neuroscientist, Joel Pearson and team from the University of New South Wales in Australia conducted a study involving 22 participants with aphantasia. These participants were identified using VVIQ self-report instrument and binocular rivalry (BR). The study was designed to test how image-based thoughts might amplify emotions by having participants read a series of fictitious fearful scenarios, while their skin conductance level (SCL) was continuously recorded. The results of the study showed that people with aphantasia show a reduced fear response to frightening scenarios when compared to controls (normal imagery). Therefore, supporting consistent evidence for imagery’s theorized role as an emotional amplifier.

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Some learners cannot visualise things in their mind’s eye


Just because some learners cannot visualise in their mind’s eye doesn’t necessarily make them less successful. PhD student in Developmental Science at University College London, Kathryn Bates rationalizes that while learner’s ability to create images in their mind is linked to various improvements in learning, the absence of this ability may lead to alternative strategies that enhance rather than hinder learning. Bates artcile Some learners cannot visualise things in their mind’s eye posted in the Blog on Learning Development (BOLD) offers a critical perspective challenging earlier ideas and theories expressed in The Guardian article “If you can’t imagine things, how can you learn?”

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Blind mind and anxiety: Might aphantasia protect against PTSD?


One of visual mental imagery’s proposed functions is to emotionally amplify thinking by lending a sensory, ‘as-if-real’ quality to otherwise verbally-based cognitive content. Cognitive neuroscientist, Joel Pearson and Marcus Wicken of the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, probe imagery’s emotional significance. In this study, 22 self-reported aphantasics and 24 non-aphants (normal imagery) control participants read a series of frightening fictitious scenarios, while investigators record their skin conductance level (SCL), an objective measure of fear response. The study found that while control participant data monotonically rose, the aphantasic SCL flatlined, suggesting significantly less fear response. This data would suggest that the emotional response to reading frightening fictitious scenarios is contingent on visual mental imagery. This is strong and novel evidence for imagery’s emotional amplifier role, underpinning imagery’s significant in disorders, such as PTSD, and their treatment. It is also the basis for ongoing research into whether aphantasics may be naturally more resilient to imagery-linked disorders, including PTSD.

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Is visual imagery ability higher for orthodontic students than those in other disciplines?


A study was conducted at University College London (UCL), in the United Kingdom (UK) to investigate the effect visual imagery may have on career choice among current university students across a range of subjects and disciplines. The study was conducted using the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) and compared four main groups of UCL students: current students at the Slade School of Fine Art; UCL Eastman Dental Institute; UCL Bartlett School of Architecture; and the Faculty of Laws. Aphantasia was uncommon in this sample, with a prevalence of 0.9%. Conclusions: There were no significant differences between the VVIQ scores across the four included Schools/Faculty. Career choice in people with good vs poor ability to visualize does not find a significant difference between a chosen career and ability to visualize (architecture, orthodontics, art, law). Further work is needed to replicate these findings in more diverse samples.

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