Co-founder, Aphantasia Network
Reading your mind: Associations between mental imagery & reading
I am conducting some research for my dissertation as an MRes student at Wrexham Glyndŵr University and I am interested in how people in different industries and job roles use mental imagery and the associations to cognitive processes. I am interested in gathering data from as broad a range of people as possible, including people who have jobs or hobbies that involve a lot of mental imagery or sensory experiences or anybody who may have impaired sensory abilities or sensory imagery abilities. This study aims to examine the effect that your prior association to words has on your cognitive performance using two different measures. The first is a word decision task where you will be asked whether the presented letters are a word or not. The second is a short questionnaire asking you to imagine some scenarios and to rate how vivid these are. This study will take no longer than 30 minutes to complete.
We are looking for people over the age of 18 with normal/corrected vision and who are fluent English speakers. You will need access to a computer or laptop with a mouse, or a tablet or smart phone, with a stable internet connection.
Ethical approval for this study was granted by the Wrexham Glyndŵr University Psychology Department Research Ethics sub-committee on 2nd February, 2021.
You can access the survey via this link on: https://research.sc/participant/login/dynamic/DC993BA5-ECD5-4C6B-9A85-A7D81F446311
Please copy the link into your browser or choose ‘Open in browser’ (usually under the 3 dots in top right hand corner if using a phone or tablet).
If you would like more information, please direct any questions to Katherine Rowlands via email at S9600046@mail.glyndwr.ac.uk.
Imagining music is a common everyday occurrence for many people. It also helps explain why we sometimes get “earworms,” a tune stuck on loop in your head. For some, these “mental concerts” can resemble the actual experience of hearing music even when there’s no actual sound visible to our ears.
Do you ever get earworms? Can you “hear” the song playing in your mind? And if so, what’s the quality of the sound (pitch, tempo, timbre, loudness)?
People with aphantasia often get asked the question: Do you dream?
According to new research, the majority of aphantasics dream visually but are unable to do so while awake. Others will dream with the knowledge they’re experiencing something, but without mental pictures or sound.
What are your dreams like?
Inspired by a post from reddit re: starting a public list of famous people with aphantasia. Here’s who we know so far:
- Blake Ross, Software Engineer, Founder of Mozilla FireFox Internet Browser. Shared perspectives on how it feels to be blind in your mind in Facebook Article.
- Craig Venter, Biochemist/Geneticist (known for leading the first draft sequence of the human genome)
- Ed Catmull, Computer Scientist, Former President of Pixar (known for his work on Toy Story, Bugs Life, Finding Nemo, Inside Out & many more). Shared perspectives on ‘my mind’s eye is blind’ in BBC News.
- Brian Froud, Fantasy Illustrator (conceptual designer for the Jim Henson films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth)
- John Wood Campbell Jr, Science Fiction Writer and Editor (known for Astounding Science Fiction later called Analog Science Fiction and Fact).
- Oliver Sacks, Neurologist, Naturalist, Historian of Science and Author (known for Awakenings, Mind’s Eye, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). Talks about his lack of mental imagery in this Youtube video..
- William James, Philosopher and Psychologist. In his book ‘Principles of Psychology‘, James describes “I can seldom call to mind even a single letter of the alphabet in purely retinal terms. I must trace the letter by running my mental eye over its contour in order that the image of it shall have any distinctness at all.”
- Mark Lawrence, Novelist, who wrote The Broken Empire trilogy of fantasy books. Wrote piece for The Guardian describing what it’s like be an author with no mind’s eye.
There’s so much we have yet to discover about what it means to “learn with aphantasia.”
Here’s a thought-provoking post from 2016, which makes the case for why leaners with aphantasia are likely to experience difficulties with learning; “as mental imagery seems to be especially important for reading comprehension and learning word meanings, and according to at least one theory, is a cornerstone for literacy.” In contrast, this post from 2019 states that while a learner’s ability to create images in their mind is linked to various improvements in learning, the absence of this ability may lead to alternative strategies that enhance rather than hinder learning.
What’s your experience learning with aphantasia? We’d love to learn more about what’s worked/hasn’t worked for you.
Whether you visualize – or not – it doesn’t define you, nor does it link with the quality of what you can produce. There are extraordinarily talented artists on both ends of the spectrum from aphantasia, inability to visualize in the mind’s eye, to hyperphantasia or hyper-vivid, almost lifelike imagination. Not convinced?
Ed Catmull, founder and former CEO of Pixar who created some of our favourite Disney classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Inside Out; happens to be blind in his mind’s eye. A BBC News article featuring his story has illuminated several assumptions we make about creativity. Catmull is quoted here saying; “People have conflated visualization with creativity and imagination, but they are not the same thing.”
Catmull reminds us that we are capable of great work, regardless of our neuro-differences. We just go about the creative process in different ways!
Are you aphantasic or hyperphantasic? Tell us more about your creative process.