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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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Loss of imagery phenomenology: a case of ‘blind imagination’

ADAM ZEMAN ET AL, ELSEVIER

The capacity for imagery, enabling us to visualise absent items and events, is a ubiquitous feature of our experience. This paper describes the case of a patient, MX, who abruptly lost the ability to generate visual images. He rated himself as experiencing almost no imagery on standard questionnaires, yet performed normally on standard tests of perception, visual imagery and visual memory. These unexpected findings were explored using functional MRI scanning (fMRI). Activation patterns while viewing famous faces were not significantly different between MX and controls, including expected activity in the fusiform gyrus. However, during attempted imagery, activation in MX’s brain was significantly reduced in a network of posterior regions while activity in frontal regions was increased compared to controls. These findings are interpreted as suggesting that MX adopted a different cognitive strategy from controls when performing the imagery task. Evidence from experimental tasks thought to rely on mental imagery, such as the Brooks’ matrices and mental rotation, support this interpretation. Taken together, these results indicate that successful performance in visual imagery and visual memory tasks can be dissociated from the phenomenal experience of visual imagery.

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Conflicting intuitions may be based on differing abilities

BILL FAW, RESEARCHGATE

Psychologist Bill Faw of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia argues in Conflicting Intuitions May Be Based On Differing Abilities: Evidence from Mental Imagery Research how people seem to assume that what is in one’s own mind is in everybody‘s mind when empirical studies clearly demonstrate this not the case. According to his research, about 2-5% percent of the 2,500 people he queried reported very poor mental imagery abilities or having no visual imagination. He adds that comparable estimates have been made in auditory and other imagery or sensory modalities related to imagination.

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A dual coding view of vocabulary learning

ALLAN PAIVIO, RESEARCHGATE

Dual coding theory, put forward by psychologist Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario, distinguishes between verbal and non-verbal thought processes, and places mental imagery as the primary function for non-verbal processing. The theory claims that information is stored in two different ways – verbally and visually – and although these two codes are independent of one another, and can each be used separately, they can also interact to enhance learning.

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Statistics of mental imagery

FRANCIS GALTON, PSYCHCLASSICS

Scientists have known that some people cannot visualize things in their mind since the 1880s, when psychologist Francis Galton of York University in Toronto first published Statistics of Mental Imagery. The paper details an experiment where Galton asks 100 male participants to picture their breakfast table and then describe to him the vividness of their impressions. Galton discovered that this ability varied remarkably; some individuals could draw up mental images just as brilliant as the scene itself while 12 of his subjects could only conjure up a dim image, or no image at all.

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