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Some learners cannot visualise things in their mind’s eye

KATHRYN BATES, BOLD

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?

JOEL PEARSON & MARCUS WICKEN, NCBI

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?

ROBERT SMYTH, PRITI ACHARYA & NIGEL HUNT, RESEARCHGATE

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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Why a Disney animator draws a blank on his own creations

DANIEL LAVELLE, THE GUARDIAN

Oscar-winner Glen Keane , who illustrated Ariel from The Little Mermaid, also has no visual imagery. Keane is among the 2% of the population with aphantasia, a little-known condition leaving them without mental imagery. Ed Catmull (Ex-Pixar Chief) told the BBC that aphantasia was not a barrier to creativity, pointing out that Keane’s work was proof that you do not have to be able to picture something to be able to draw it. Catmull explains; “He (Keane) is truly extraordinary, he’s one of the best animators in the history of hand-drawn animation.”

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Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says ‘my mind’s eye is blind’

JAMES GALLAGHER, BBC NEWS

You don’t need mental imagery to be creative. Just ask Former President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull who brought us Disney classics like Toy Story, Wall-e, Finding Nemo and Inside Out. Ed has aphantasia, but he is not alone. When Ed sent out the VVIQ quiz to a group of animators at Disney he was surprised to find that there are phenomenal artists on both ends of the spectrum from aphantasia, the inability to visualize in your mind’s eye to hyperphantasia, those who are extraordinarily good at it. Ed discovered, perhaps counter-intuitively, that some of the greatest talents in animation could not visualize either. The correlations are not what you would expect; “People have conflated visualization with creativity and imagination, they are not the same thing.”

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Could you have this memory disorder?

CLAUDIA HAMMOND, BBC NEWS

The BBC article Could you have this memory disorder? chronicals the experience of Susie McKinnon who has very few memories from her life and cannot remember special events nor “mentally time travel.” McKinnon first researched amnesia, but the stories of people who lost their memories as a result of illness or brain injuries didn’t seem to fit her experience. She could remember that events had happened; she just didn’t recall what it was like to be there. She sends an email to Brian Levine , a memory scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest in Toronto. The result of their communication was the identification of a new syndrome – Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory or SDAM for short. McKinnon also has aphantasia, which means she can’t picture images. Early findings suggest there may be a correlation between SDAM and aphantasia.

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The neural correlates of visual imagery vividness

JON FULFORD, FRASER MILTON ET AL, RESEARCHGATE

In this study, a sample of 111 undergraduate students were instructed to take VVIQ . Participants who received a low-score (15) and a high score (14) on VVIQ were selected for further study. Both of the two groups were matched on measures of age, IQ, memory, and mood but differed significantly in imagery vividness. Researchers used fMRI to examine brain activation while participants looked at, or later imagined, famous faces and famous buildings. Group comparison revealed that the low-vividness group activated a more widespread set of brain regions while visualizing than the high-vividness group. The results are discussed in relation to a previous, functional imaging study of a clinical case of ‘blind imagination’, and to the existing literature on the functional imaging correlates of imagery vividness and related phenomena in visual and other domains.

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The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia

JOEL PEARSON, RESEARCHGATE

For most people the use of mental imagery is pervasive in daily life, but for a small group of people, the experience of mental imagery is entirely unknown. Cognitive neuroscientist, Joel Pearson of the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia, conducts a study with subjectively self-diagnosed aphantasics and publishes The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia. In the study techniques like the binocular rivalry (BR), as well as measuring their self-rated object and spatial imagery with multiple questionnaires ( VVIQ , SUIS and OSIQ) are used to explore sensory imagery. Unlike the general population, people with aphantasia showed almost no imagery-based rivalry priming. Aphantasic participants’ self-rated visual object imagery was significantly below average, however their spatial imagery scores were above average. The findings suggest aphantasia is a condition involving a lack of sensory and phenomenal imagery and not a lack of metacognition.

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