Aphantasia Research

Evolving library of aphantasia research. Explore imagery extremes, aphantasia and hyperphantasia. Share some of the latest knowledge. 

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Journal article

Fewer intrusive memories in aphantasia: using the trauma film paradigm as a laboratory model of PTSD

Rebecca Keogh, Marcus Wicken, Joel Pearson in PsyArXiv
When we live through a traumatic event some of us will go on to experience uncontrollable unpleasant memories of the event. These intrusive memories are one of the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. Intrusive memories or flashbacks are typically described as visual, and their vividness predicts the severity of PTSD. If visual imagery is central to the development and continuation of flashbacks then people without visual imagery (aphantasia) should experience less, or different, intrusive memories. To test this, a group of individuals with aphantasia and a group with visual imagery underwent a lab-based PTSD model: the trauma film paradigm. Aphantasic individuals reported fewer intrusions immediately after watching the traumatic film, as well as fewer intrusions in a digital diary app over the course of a week. Despite the significant reduction in intrusive memories, aphantasic individuals still reported having some intrusions, however, the sensory qualities of these intrusions were markedly different from individuals with visual imagery. While individuals with visual imagery reported their intrusions as being mostly visual, aphantasic individuals reported mostly verbal intrusions. These findings demonstrate that visual imagery is related to the number of intrusive memories experienced after witnessing a traumatic event, which may have important implications for the development of PTSD. Further, it does appear that aphantasic individuals can experience intrusions, albeit less frequently and in a different format than people with visual imagery.
Journal article

Probing the unimaginable: The impact of aphantasia on distinct domains of visual mental imagery and visual perception

Jianghao Liu, Paolo Bartolomeo in PsyArXiv
We conducted a study with 117 healthy participants who reported different levels of imagery vividness, to examine how individual variations in the vividness of visual mental imagery affect different imagery domains, such as object shape, color, written words, faces, and spatial relationships. Of these participants, 44 reported experiencing absent or nearly absent visual imagery, a condition known as "aphantasia". These individuals were compared to those with typical (N = 42) or unusually vivid (N = 31) imagery ability. We used an online version of the French-language Battérie Imagination-Perception (eBIP), which consists of tasks tapping each of the above-mentioned domains in visual imagery and in visual perception. We recorded the accuracy and response times (RTs) of participants' responses. Bayesian analyses showed that there was a very high level of confidence that aphantasic participants had similar accuracy on all tasks compared to the other groups (BF = 0.02). However, their RTs were slower in both imagery and perceptual tasks (BF = 266), and they had lower confidence in their responses on perceptual tasks (BF = 7.78e5). A Bayesian regression analysis revealed that there was an inverse correlation between subjective vividness and RTs for the entire participant group. The pattern was similar in all the explored domains. The findings suggest that individuals with congenital aphantasia experience a slowing in processing visual information in both imagery and perception, but the precision of their processing remains unaffected. The observed performance pattern lends support to the ideas that congenital aphantasia is primarily caused by metacognitive issues, or that it employs alternative strategies other than visualization to access preserved visual information.
Journal article

Where’s Wanda? The influence of visual imagery vividness on visual search speed measured by means of hidden object pictures

Merlin Monzel, Martin Reuter in Springer Link
Previous research demonstrated effects of visual imagery on search speed in visual search paradigms. However, these effects were rather small, questioning their ecological validity. Thus, our present study aimed to generalize these effects to more naturalistic material (i.e., a paradigm that allows for top-down strategies in highly complex visual search displays that include overlapping stimuli while simultaneously avoiding possibly confounding search instructions). One hundred and four participants with aphantasia (= absence of voluntary mental imagery) and 104 gender and age-matched controls were asked to find hidden objects in several hidden object pictures with search times recorded. Results showed that people with aphantasia were significantly slower than controls, even when controlling for age and general processing speed. Thus, effects of visual imagery might be strong enough to influence the perception of our real-life surroundings, probably because of the involvement of visual imagery in several top-down strategies.
Journal article

No general pathological significance of aphantasia: An evaluation based on criteria for mental disorders

Merlin Monzel, Annabel Vetterlein, Martin Reuter in ResearchGate
As awareness of the phenomenon of aphantasia (= lack of voluntary imagery) has increased in recent years, many psychotherapists ponder its clinical implications. The present study investigates whether aphantasia meets the criteria for mental disorders, i.e. statistical rarity, impairment in activities of daily living, violation of social norms and inappropriate behavior and personal distress. Prevalence of aphantasia was determined meta‐analytically based on 3,543 participants. An international sample of 156 participants with aphantasia (58.3% male; Mage = 35.23) and 131 controls (65.6% male; Mage = 28.88) was assessed with the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, the Questionnaire for the Assessment of Everyday Memory Performance and the Aphantasia Distress Questionnaire, as well as measures of depression, anxiety and well‐being. The prevalence of aphantasia was estimated at 3.5 to 4.8%. Participants with aphantasia scored significantly lower than controls on every day and autobiographical memory, but not on theory of mind. A subgroup of 34.7% of participants with aphantasia reported distress significantly associated with lower well‐being and high levels of anxiety and depression. The level of distress increased with poorer performance in autobiographical memory and theory of mind. Although aphantasia meets the criterion of statistical rarity, the impact on activities of daily living and personal distress is too weak to justify a classification as a mental disorder. In a subgroup, however, distress can reach clinically relevant levels. In individual cases, it is therefore advisable to conduct a psychological assessment, for example by means of the Aphantasia Distress Questionnaire.
Journal article

Visual imagery vividness declines across the lifespan

Erzsébet Gulyás Ferenc Gombos Sára Sütöri Andrea Lovas Gergő Ziman Ilona Kovács in ScienceDirect
The capacity to elicit vivid visual mental images varies within an extensive range across individuals between hyper- and aphantasia. It is not clear, however, whether imagery vividness is constant across the lifespan or changes during development and later in life. Without enforcing the constraints of strict experimental procedures and representativity across the entire population, our purpose was to explore the self-reported level of imagery vividness and determine the relative proportions of aphantasic/hyperphantasic participants in different age groups. Relying on the frequently used Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire, we collected data on a random sample of 2252 participants between the ages of 12–60 years. We found a novel developmental pattern that describes a declining ability to elicit vivid visual mental images in the group averages of different age groups from adolescence to middle age. This effect involves both a decreasing proportion of individuals with vivid visual imagery vividness and an increasing proportion of individuals with low imagery vividness as maturation (based on bone age assessments in adolescents) and ageing progress. These findings may shed some light on the developmental mechanisms of our internal, stimulus-independent processes, and might also help to determine genetic, maturational, and age-dependent factors in the cases of hyper- and aphantasia.
Journal article

Cortical activity involved in perception and imagery of visual stimuli in a subject with aphantasia. An EEG case report

Mariano Furman, Pablo Fleitas-Rumak, Pilar Lopez-Segura et al. in Naurocase
Aphantasia has been described as the inability to voluntarily evoke mental images using the “mind’s eye.” We studied a congenital aphantasic subject using neuropsychological testsand 64 channel EEG recordings, in order to studycortical activity involved in perception and imagery evaluating event-related potentials(N170, P200, N250). The subject is in the normal range of the neuropsychological tests performed, except for specific imagery tests. The EEG results show that when he evokes the same mental image, he starts the evoking process from left temporal instead of frontal areas, he does not activate occipital visual nor left anterior parietal areas.
Journal article

Aphantasia: In search for a theory

Andrea Blomkvist in Wiley Online Library
Though researchers working on congenital aphantasia (henceforth “aphantasia”) agree that this condition involves an impairment in the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery, disagreement looms large as to which other impairments are exhibited by aphantasic subjects. This article offers the first extensive review of studies on aphantasia, and proposes that aphantasic subjects exhibit a cluster of impairments. It puts forward a novel cognitive theory of aphantasia, building on the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis of memory and imagination. It argues that aphantasia is best explained as a malfunction of processes in the episodic system, and is therefore an episodic system condition.
Journal article

Memories with a blind mind: Remembering the past and imagining the future with aphantasia

Alexei J.Dawes, Rebecca Keogh, Sarah Robucka, Joel Pearson in ScienceDirect
Individuals with aphantasia were assessed on the capacity to re-experience the past and simulate the future. The findings suggest that aphantasia is associated with a diminished ability to re-experience the past and simulate the future, indicating that visual imagery is an important cognitive tool for the dynamic retrieval and recombination of episodic details during mental simulation.
Journal article

Plural imagination: diversity in mind and making

MacKisack, M; Aldworth, S; MacPherson, F; et al. in Art Journal
The experience of visual mental imagery—seeing in the mind’s eye—varies widely between individuals, but perhaps because we tend to assume our own way of thinking to be everyone’s, how this crucial variation impacts art practice, and indeed art history, has barely been addressed. We seek to correct this omission by pursuing the implications of how artists with aphantasia (the absence of mental imagery) and hyperphantasia (imagery of extreme vividness) describe their working processes. The findings remind us of the need to challenge normative, universalizing models of art making and art maker.
Journal article

Memory without imagery: no evidence of visual working memory impairment in people with aphantasia

Knight, KN; Milton, FN; Zeman, A in Cognitive Science Society
Visual working memory and visual mental imagery both involve the use of internal visual representations, and they likely have overlapping neural substrates. However, research on people with “aphantasia,” or a lack of visual imagery, has not found any evidence that aphantasics are impaired on visual working memory tasks, possibly because they can use nonvisual strategies.
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