DNA Testing

Since it’s well established that Aphantasia is generally hereditary, has anyone started looking into possible DNA links?

I bring it up because I recently took the 23 & me test and was shocked by the report saying I had 63% more Neanderthal DNA than the average person.  Not saying that is the link, but it did start me wondering if we could find a commonality in our DNA?

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This is a really interesting question, and research is definitely being done on this!

In one of his team’s recent papers, Dr. Adam Zeman (the scientist who popularized the term aphantasia) wrote that “aphantasia appears to run within families more often than would be expected by chance,” which definitely suggests that there is some sort of genetic link to the lack of visual imagery. You can find the paper and a summary of it here!

He also talks a bit about the heritability of aphantasia in his Q&A with the Aphantasia Network if you’d like to check that out as well.

As far as I can tell, no one has yet isolated any genes responsible for aphantasia (the research on the genetic link is still in pretty early stages), but people are certainly looking 🙂

I think your question is worth investigating. I am an aphantasic individual who also has more than average Neanderthal DNA according to 23 & me (more than 74% of their customers). In his AMA, Joel Pearson shared that a large occipital region on the brain correlated to lower visualization ability. Interestingly, it turns out that Neanderthals had much larger occipital lobes and there’s research that supports that those changes are measurable in modern humans who have a higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA. There are probably other reasons for having aphantasia too but this might be part of one explanation.

23&me said I had 90% more Neanderthal dna. So I took a Neanderthal specific dna test and it said I had a complex of 14 variants involved in Neanderthal cognition and learning. I researched those genes and found that the NIH had studied them. They had a hypothesis that folks with these genes were better problem solvers but suffered from some social defects. That describes me.

I too have a relatively high level of Neanderthal DNA (more than 64% of their population) but it is important to understand how 23andMe come up with this; my understanding is that the 23andMe database includes many people from Africa and The Far East and I believe many of those populations have very low levels of Neanderthal DNA – hence the figures are somewhat skewed (happy to be corrected on this)