Can electrical stimulation modify your imagery?


I recently wrote an article on new research that uses electrical stimulation to see what’s different in the brains of people who see vivid imagery versus those of aphantasics. The researchers were seemingly able to change how vividly people pictured images. I’m curious what folks think about the research – was imagery vividness really changed? What are the implications of this? The stimulation was only enough to slightly change the vividness, but do you think this same technology could drastically change someone’s imagery? And could it make someone visualize even if they are fully aphantasic? If it could, would you use electrical stimulation to change your imagery? Would you make it more vivid or less vivid? What about for mental imagery in senses other than vision?

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Would someone who was profoundly aphantasic be able to experience a visual image for the first time this way? Would that be a dramatic experience for them? Or would it be something like the faintest tremour of a hitherto paralysed muscle, so subtle that they wouldn’t be able to tell for sure they’d experienced anything at all? And at the other extreme, do we think that perhaps it might be possible to make a hyperphantasic ‘suffer’ by over-stimulating to the point where they found it unpleasant?

All good questions! We don’t know any of these answers definitively, but seems like something that further research could figure out. I’d certainly sign up for some electrical stimulation to see if I notice even the faintest bits of visualization.

I’m fully aphantasic. I got that perhaps electrical stimulation could be used to change mental imagery, but what about mental scents, tastes, or sounds?

Good question! It seems likely that imagery in the other senses is caused by a similar “top-down” control from the prefrontal cortex to the cortical area of the corresponding sense and that electrical stimulation could similarly change the vividness of those types of imagery – but that’s just my intuition. (And, as a reminder, we don’t know if electrical stimulation would do anything to a sense with no vividness, just that it adjusts the vividness of senses that already have some amount of vividness.)

I’m hopeful that any research could eventually lead to an experience similar to that of the general population. I would prefer that it not be permanent and that vividness be controllable because I do worry that after a lifetime one way, such a change could be overly distracting. Am I a blind man saying that the light is too bright, maybe, but I’d like to have some control over it should the technology ever progress to a point where someone full aphantasic could experience all those senses in recall.

any updates on this question?

i would definitely love to test turning on the vision.

as a kid, i recall that even my nightmares (which i had only while sick) were always image-less, filled with drums.

i can have vivid dreams, even lucid ones when i practiced it for a while, but in retrospect i can clearly identify myself as a full aphantasian.

as for another question to add to the poll:

could it mean, like the blind, we have heightened other senses? even vision itself, which doesn’t get distracted by imagination.

i often get the impression i can literally see reality better than most…

This research is EXCITING but needs much more sophisticated subjective/phenomenological methodology….  there are so many different kinds of imagery.

Any guess about whether “mind’s eye” engages same brain mechanism as “pareidolia”?

Personally, I have been experimenting with various kinds of meditative methods to see if I can stimulate imagery that way.

PS:  If you still read/post on this site (I am a new user), I would love to know your ideas about how the pre-frontal cortex is involved in this, and whether you think that there are unusual states of coherence among different brain areas?


And, BTW,  my short answer to whether I would use electrical stimulation to change my imagery is an enthusiastic YES — assuming I was convinced that it would be safe.

I’d also be VERY interested in being a subject for research on TMS and aphantasia if there were any opportunity to do that was geographically convenient.

Instead of a popcorn analogy, wouldn’t a “water pump” analogy be better? I find that thinking of the visual cortex being “less excitable” in people with better mental imagery is backward. It is because their internal “stimulus” is already primed and ready to go that they need more electrical stimulation to override their internal electrical stimulation, and someone with aphantasia needs less because their internal stimulation is so non-existent that any amount will trigger visualization. This is the water pump analogy: does it take more or less water to prime a water pump that is already primed (visualizers)? And how about a water pump that is not primed at all (aphantsians)?