How aphantasia effects the way we think and how that differ’s from those who don’t have aphantasia

I’m 16 and I found out I had it a few years ago. I was always clueless to the matter and didn’t realize people could see things in their mind and after finding out a lot of phrases such as “counting sheep” and “happy place” made a lot more sense to me. When I was a kid my mom never understood the way I did things like solving math problems as if my mind was working a completely different way. As I grow older and the thought of aphantasia crosses my mind I sometimes think about how it effects the way I think.  My memory is awful and when I really try to think about things its hard to keep all the information in my head at once. I’ve noticed the way I think about things is different, its hard to explain, but whenever I am trying to understand something conceptual or another side in an argument, I have a completely different reasoning and pathway that arrives me to my conclusion. It also is sometimes hard to trace back to why I come up with certain conclusions and remembering all the reasons as to why my thoughts were lead in that direction. I am terrible at explaining things in general but I’m wondering if other people that have the condition have an input on this because from what i’d imagine, not having images to use will lead our brains to develop differently to problem solving skills and just how we think in general.

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on May 4, 2021

Hi Riley, I am fully aphantasic and can broadly relate with you on memory. I have trouble remembering events, statements, subtleties, and the chronological order of events. However, I have a vast knowledge and quick recall of facts, learned practices, and the relationships, motivations & bilateral influences between disparate concepts/entities within a larger ecosystem… I am still trying to find the language to explain this last point lol But what I am trying to say is that I often gravitate towards and quickly learn the unseen factors and forces that are at play. The different perspectives that are informing beliefs. The meta cause and effect dynamic underlying various possible actions and outcomes.

Put simply, I find that I excel at strategy-development, problem-solving, data analysis, and systems-thinking. My process isn’t fast, but it’s effective. Whether aphantasia influences these strengths and to what degree, we’ll have to see what the data says. But I speculate that flexible thinking may be the meta-tendency that is benefiting each of these skills. I like to know multiple possible solutions to a problem, understand the reasoning behind them, the arguments for and against each and their potential consequences.

I’ll have to write an article on this, so I can fully elaborate on a concrete example… my tendency for abstract and poor memory of events may be a reason I find it difficult to give general examples 😂

The thing that has become much clearer since I began examining the thoughts and inner worlds of myself and others is that exposure and experience have a far greater impact on our cognition, psychology, and abilities than I had ever imagined. Don’t expect yourself to be good at anything without practice. Aphantasia has yet to be shown as a barrier to any profession or skill. If you want to be better at anything, it will require practice – that’s true for everybody. The real trick is figuring out what you desire, what skills are required to achieve those desires, deliberately practicing those skills, and identifying the best ways to fine tune your approach so that it benefits your strengths.

Does that make sense? 

nice one zach!

hi riley, i’m 52, i found out 4 days ago i was total aphant. maybe finding out so late is better in certain ways, or not, still thinking about it. when i was younger i would mentally thoroughly analyze everything, almost compulsively. seen in this new light i think perhaps it was because i needed to put out that much brainwork because that was a system to remember – and it works, it just works differently. and im so grateful for that practice, i have mental muscles that are strong strong strong.  

i’m an artist, i went to art school. i can tell you don’t need a visual memory to be an artist (it may even be a driving factor in my need to create imagery). i draw by the same analysis process – initial thorough examination (love a good skeleton!) and then repetition with a live or photo subject. once ive done that then the ability to draw that subject or a similar thing is hardwired, i can feel into it as my hands move, but its a whole body sensation. ive noticed when i get deeply into flow of art i talk it out verbally, again its a bit compulsive i find myself gesturing and talking out the feel of the thing.

in my life i’ve done many other things as well though my core definition is always artist and hunter of thoughts, i get bored of things and i don’t cling to ideas of myself (that may be an aphant characteristic- if so, i think its a superpower!), so it may have influenced my ability to stick to things, but i see it more as being fluid and adaptable.  

i think it may effect interpersonal relationships.. i’m just beginning to unpack that for myself. one thing i’ve noticed and struggled with all my life is that i have a hard time coming up with an instant response in a conversation, it can be very delayed- because theres nothing in my brain – i’m just listening.. but i don’t know if thats connected or not. i think lack of mental imagery may effect my emotional/feeling way of being but no real concrete thoughts about that yet.

i definetely do not think like others, i reach conclusions differently,  i see things differently i always have, i thought that was because i was an artist.. 

for now, in short as with so many adaptations that humans figure out work arounds for, being other abled doesn’t limit your choices, only you do that. i loved what zach said about unseen factors and forces at play, yes! i think what we have is a special gift of being outliers of cultural observation, we see what’s there in front of us, not some projected group think psychosis, its not a limiting factor, but yes it will take hard work to find your path to learning workarounds.. 

best wishes riley! 

Hi Riley, 

I do understand what you are saying and it is very frustrating when you can’t explain to yourself how you came to an answer. I’m also dyslexic I have no idea if there is a connection or if I’m unlucky, but as I’ve only found out about Aphantasia in the last few days I can give you a few hints to what works for me. Not knowing you have something doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect you it, just means you don’t think about it and that, I think  can be good in many ways. 

My first, biggest and most important tip is notes, notebooks (yes plural) and colours, pens, pencils, highlighters you will find what you like best. Ive always liked coloured ink pens and highlighters. If you think about a maths problem in class you are always told to show you’re working out. This is simply the same method across everything, make notes to remind you of the steps you took to get to an answer. It sounds like a lot of work but you’ll soon learn a way to make it quick, the notes are for you so only you have to understand them. Some of mine are now single words or a group of numbers, especially the school based ones (I’m doing a phd). My phone has so many notes in it I don’t know what most of them mean, until I need them again and suddenly they make sense because my brain is thinking about that thing again.

Which brings me to my second thing. Memory Tags.

A first you might need help with this, I kind of did but it built up more accidentally than as a planned idea so maybe not. I have begun to realise that not everything lost in memories is actually lost, it just isn’t remembered. Which is where the tags come in, if you have forgotten when you put great aunt daisy’s favourite hat, you can stand there all day long and you won’t remember, it simply isn’t happening and we have to accept that. But that stupid question grandparents ask (I am now a grandparent) “where were you when you last had it?” Isn’t far wrong, yes I know if you knew that you’d know where it is, but you only have to be reminded or remember a small thing about the time not the thing.

So why did you have great aunt daisy’s hat and why isn’t it in the usual place?  Simple, it was raining, so you stuffed it full of newspaper and put it in the airing cupboard to stop it shrinking. 

I know that’s an extreme example,  but it shows how to look outside the box to find the information you want/need. 

I hope this helps if only a little 


Hi, I think I was also around 16 when I found out about my aphantasia, and since then I have understood more about my thought process because of it. The most exciting discovery is finding the best words I can to describe how I think of “visual” things. In my experience if you ask me to think of something like a gas station, I would think of the essence of a gas station. It would feel like viewing all traditional gas stations from all vantage points created by my collective memory of gas stations. I say it “feels” like that because again, I can’t actually see a gas station this way.

Another interesting point was comparing my art to other creative friends I know, even analyzing art projects I’ve done in class. I realized I am a very character driven artist that focusses on the emotion expressed by the character rather than landscapes or interesting anatomy. Drawing characters from behind are very difficult because there is no face to be to attach to.

This connection to emotion explains my memory problems too. I remember small events or things people said only if there is strong emotion tied to the event. Sometimes I remember very unnecessary and trivial things just because it made me laugh or made me think for a bit.

Of course I am a very verbal person. I discovered that its almost impossible for me to process my emotions without talking my fiancé’s ear off about whatever happened. This had caused me a lot of problem in regards of mental health. If I don’t say what I’m thinking out loud, its hard for my brain to understand what it’s feeling. If I forgot what I felt, I end up repeating stories just to process them again. I’ve tried journaling but due to my dyslexia and lack of visualization, my brain can’t connect with the written words.

Last thing I discovered is that my aphantasia may link to my obsession with stuff. By this I mean my room and desk is full of useless decorations and little random items I collected over the years. Being surrounded by things like this brings me lots of joy; I think part of that is because I am uncomfortable in blank spaces. I’m completely fine in a place like the doctor’s office cause I can find other stimuli, but if my room has too many blank spots, I would go insane.

After discovering I had aphantasia, I was really sad for a bit because I though I was missing out on a cool ability everyone else had. I was upset I couldn’t read books the same as everyone else or meditate the same. Now being aware that this is how my brain works, it only fascinated me more. The human brain in amazing in how unique it can be yet still be functional. I hope my experiences give you a different perspective from someone who share this with you. Maybe you’ll start finding little loopholes you brain created to deal with the lack of visualization like mine did.