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AMA with Prof Joel Pearson

One of the world’s leading authorities on all things aphantasia and mental imagery.

First public Aphantasia Ask Me Anything

The first Aphantasia AMA with Prof Joel Pearson, broadcasted live on February 25th, 2021. Professor Joel Pearson is the Founder and Director of Future Minds Lab at the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. Future Mind’s Lab is researching the mechanisms and applications of mental imagery, often employing novel approaches utilizing behavioral, brain-imaging, and/or brain-stimulation techniques. After publishing multiple revelatory studies in mental imagery, Professor Joel Pearson is now considered one of the world’s leading authorities on aphantasia.

Is an objective Aphantasia Test possible?

Pearson discusses how his curious imagination led him to accidentally discovering the measurable effects of visual imagery on perceptual outcomes, igniting his interest in mental imagery research,  and making way for the first objective in-lab “aphantasia test” using Binocular Rivalry and a technique called perceptual priming (whereas the VVIQ is a subjective measure). He also dives into some other significant studies, which uncovered the effects of mental imagery on emotions and differences in brain function and anatomy that relate to the vividness of visual imagery.

Is a “cure” hypothetically possible?

Notably, Pearson shares his fascination and thoughts on the neurodiverse nature of aphantasia and hyperphantasia, and why the word “cure” inaccurately implies a disability, as opposed to a natural variation in human experience with imagery extremes on either end of the imagination spectrum. We covered all this and more, including questions on memory, creativity, and the future of imagination research. If you’d like to jump ahead to any specific questions, you can find the linked Timestamps below.


1:20 How did you first get involved in mental imagery research?

3:27 What’s happening in an aphantasic brain? Why can’t we imagine pictures?

6:25 What percentage of aphantasics are affected in all senses?

7:48 Do you think it’s always due to nature/present at birth?

9:38 How does aphantasia affect memory?

13:15 Is there a formal diagnosis for aphantasia? Is it viable for one to be formed in the future? And would it be more of a neurological one or a self-report?

16:19 How does aphantasia impact emotional regulation?

19:41 Do you think aphantasia can have a positive impact on dealing with trauma due to the inability to revisit?

20:38 Does having aphantasia influence our personality or are the many common traits just coincidences?

21:41 How does it affect our learning?

24:00 Have you explored any correlations between ADHD and aphantasia?

24:53 How is it that I have such mental imagery in dreams but not awake?

27:28 How reliable is self-report?

29:34 Is imagination and visualization the same thing?

31:36 Is a “cure” theoretically possible?

35:00 How does aphantasia affect the other senses?

36:18 Aphantasia and the experience of sexuality?

37:21 Is aphantasia known to be genetic? Are my children likely to have a similar lack of mental imagery?

38:35 What research is being planned?

42:46 How can people get involved with your research, and aphantasia globally?

44:12 Given there is a correlation between aphantasia and the STEM field: how do artists, dancers, etc find success in creative fields? How is this possible?

47:02 Is aphantasia a disability?

48:47 Is there any correlation between IQ and aphantasia?

49:38 Does the “degree” of “phantasia” in the general population follow a normal distribution, with aphantasia and hyperphantasia at the “tails”? Or, is there some other kind of distribution?

52:27 What does an “average” or more common degree of phantasia look like?

54:35 How do I support a child with aphantasia? Are there methods of support or teaching that you recommend?

56:15 How can we objectively measure aphantasia in all the senses?

57:48 What are your thoughts about aphantasia combined with synesthesia?

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