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If you can’t imagine things, how can you learn?

MO COSTANDI, THE GUARDIAN

Visualization is a powerful tool that can accelerate learning and improve performance but what If you can’t imagine things […]?. In this article posted in The Guardian, author Mo Costandi illuminates how most people rely on mental imagery for memory, daydreaming and imagination. Further, while the use of mental imagery is not directly related to measures of intelligence, vocabulary, and reading comprehension; it does play a role in how some schoolchildren acquire literacy skills from helping them remember what they read, to improving their performance on memory tasks. Mental imagery can also be used in the teaching and learning of mathematics and computer science, both of which involve an understanding of the patterns within numbers, and creating visual representations of the spatial relationships between them. From this view, aphantasia could be seen as impeding learning ability, though further systemic research on the subject is needed.

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Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind.

BLAKE ROSS, FACEBOOK

When aphantasia was first given a name by Adam Zeman back in 2015 Blake Ross , best known for his work as co-creator of Mozilla internet browser and Director of Product at Facebook, was among the originals who reported an inability to visualize in their mind’s eye. In Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind , an article posted on Facebook, Ross details his discovery of aphantasia and some of the social experiments he conducted in his quest for answers. Even though the majority of people Ross interviewed were able to create mental images, he managed to talk to some who shared a similar experience. In asking questions, Ross gained a new perspective on the human experience of aphantasia. To date, this remains among one of the most widely shared articles on aphantasia.

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My mind’s eye is blind – so what’s going on in my brain?

DUSTIN GRINNELL, NEW SCIENTIST

My mind’s eye is blind […] I couldn’t picture her face. When Dustin Grinnell and his girlfriend move to opposite sides of the US for work, Grinnell discovers he is unable to conjure up a mental image of her face. Grinnell first discovered he was aphantasic after watching a 60 minute interview with biologist Craig Venter, the creator of the first synthetic organism. In the interview, Benter attributes his academic success to an unusual way of thinking, using purely concepts with no mental imagery whatsoever. Grinnell begins investigating the condition further and discovers that science is starting to find answers.

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Picture this? Some just can’t.

CARL ZIMMER, NEW YORK TIMES

Picture this? […] A retired surveyor who can no longer imagine. This New York Times article chronicles the experience of a 65-year-old man from the UK, patient MX, who reported losing his mind’s eye after heart surgery. Assigned to the case is UK neurologist Adam Zeman, tasked with figuring out what’s going on in MX’s head. Zeman publishes the first scientific study on aphantasia in June of 2015, and a few days later, is picked up by New York Times writer Carl Zimmer in Picture This? […]. When the research went public, dozens of people from around the world came forward saying they share a similar experience to MX; including founder of The Aphantasia Network, Tom Ebeyer. However, unlike MX, they have it from birth.

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Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia

ADAM ZEMAN, RESEARCHGATE

Neurologist Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter publishes Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia, the first fMRI study on mental imagery. The study involved a patient, known as MX, who reported losing his ability to visualize in the mind after undergoing heart surgery. In his study, Zeman uses an MRI scanner to monitor MX’s brain activity when asked to name famous people. The scan reveals that different regions of his brain were active when MX lists the names one by one. However, when it comes time to picture their faces, MX draws a total blank. The scan reveals complete inactivity or total darkness. Zeman refers to the inability to generate mental imagery as aphantasia. Although the phenomenon was already described nearly 150 years ago (Galton, 1880), it regained public attention and was given a name by the scientific community for the first time.

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Severely deficient autobiographical memory

BRIAN LEVINE ET AL, SCIENCE DIRECT

The ability to recall previously experienced events is a key element of human memory. While deficits in this capacity are often associated with brain disease, little is known about individual differences in autobiographical memory (AM) in healthy individuals. AM is defined as both the recollection of personal past events and factual knowledge about oneself. Recently, healthy adults with highly superior autobiographical capacities or HSAM have been identified. In this scientific study, three healthy, high functioning adults with the reverse pattern: lifelong severely deficient autobiographical memory or SDAM are identified. Their self-reported selective inability to vividly recollect personally experienced events from a first-person perspective was corroborated by the absence of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) giving evidence to the idea that autobiographical memory might lie on a spectrum. Early findings suggest there may be a correlation between SDAM and aphantasia.

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Mental imagery and visual working memory

JOEL PEARSON & REBECCA KEOGH, RESEARCH GATE

Visual working memory provides an essential link between past and future events. Despite recent efforts, capacity limits, their genesis and the underlying neural structures of visual working memory remain unclear. Here cognitive neuroscientists Joel Pearson and Rebecca Keogh from the University of New South Wales in Australia show that performance in visual working memory can be predicted by the strength of mental imagery as assessed with binocular rivalry (BR) in a given individual. Individuals with poor imagery still performed above chance in the visual working memory task, but their performance was not affected by the background luminance, suggesting a dichotomy in strategies for visual working memory: individuals with strong mental imagery rely on sensory-based imagery to support mnemonic performance, while those with poor imagery rely on different strategies. These findings could help reconcile current controversy regarding the mechanism and location of visual mnemonic storage.

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Not everyone conducts inner speech

RUSSELL T. HURLBURT, PSYCHOLOGY TODAY

Much of what we say is never said aloud; it occurs silently in the privacy of our minds. We chastise, congratulate, joke, and generate endless commentary, all without making a sound. This is a distinctively human ability to have conversations in the privacy of our minds and in a sense “hear” ourselves talk. But not everyone conducts inner speech. In a 2011 study, PhD Russell Hurlburt and Chris Heavey gave random beepers to a random sample of 30 students and interviewed them about the characteristics of their inner experiences. From this random sample, there were large individual differences: some never experienced any inner speech while others the majority (75% of the sample) did.

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