The Discovery of Aphantasia

Dr. Adam Zeman joins Tom Ebeyer for a live Ask Me Anything event to answer the community's questions on aphantasia and hyperphantasia.
Play Video

Discovery of Aphantasia and Hyperphantasia with Adam Zeman

Aphantasia is the inability to visualize, otherwise known as image-free thinking. Hyperphantasia is the opposite, characterized by a highly vivid imagination.

The discovery of aphantasia and hyperphantasia offers an intriguing insight into human imagination. It challenges prevailing assumptions about what it means to imagine. A wide range of individual differences exist in how we experience and represent mental imagery. Some of us have remarkably unique ways of thinking, creating, dreaming, and remembering—all functions of our imagination.

Aphantasia, in particular, has been surprising to many people because it is a condition that was only recently identified in 2015. People with aphantasia often feel like they are missing out on something others take for granted. Yet aphantasia comes with its own unique set of cognitive strengths and challenges. The rediscovery of this unique variation raises important questions about the relationship between perception and imagination and how these two processes may interact in the brain.

Adam Zeman is a Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology Professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Zeman first coined the term aphantasia to describe the inability to visualize back in 2015 and is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on imagery extremes. Zeman joins the Aphantasia Network for a live Ask Me Anything member event to answer some of our community’s questions. Hosted by Tom Ebeyer.


1:04 How Dr. Zeman discovered Aphantasia

3:25 What is Hyperphantasia?

6:00 How is the brain different with Aphantasia?

10:40 Is Aphantasia hereditary?

12:55 Am I less triggered to traumatic memories due to Aphantasia?

14:54 Impact on eyewitness testimonies

17:38 How PTSD presents and how it could be treated?

19:26 Can it be caused by emotional trauma?

21:24 Have you researched anyone who’ve been able to regain visual imagination?

23:49 Are there medical conditions that make it more likely to have Aphantasia?

26:16 Can Aphantasics be hypnotized?

27:05 Connections between Aphantasia and SDAM

29:57 How prevalent is Aphantasia in ADHD and Autism?

32:44 Connections to early-onset Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia

34:08 Behavioral differences in Aphantasia or Hyperphantasia

39:11 Are there demographic differences in the prevalence of Aphantasia?

40:47 Has anything been done on gender or culture differences with Aphantasia?

43:40 How do we tell the difference between normal Phantasia and Hyperphantasia

46:25 Advantages/disadvantages of knowing you have Aphantasia

50:56 In Aphantasics, is there any activity in the visual cortex when presented with a visual cue?

55:58 Causes for lack of the other senses like touch, taste, and sound in the brain

Milton, F., Fulford, J., Dance, C., Gaddum, J., Heuerman-Williamson, B., Jones, K., … Zeman, A. (2021). Behavioral and neural signatures of visual imagery vividness extremes: Aphantasia versus hyperphantasia. Cerebral Cortex Communications, 2(2), tgab035. doi:10.1093/texcom/tgab035
Zeman, A., Milton, F., Della Sala, S., Dewar, M., Frayling, T., Gaddum, J., … Winlove, C. (2020). Phantasia-The psychological significance of lifelong visual imagery vividness extremes. Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 130, 426–440. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2020.04.003
Zeman, A., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Lives without imagery - Congenital aphantasia. Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 73, 378–380. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019
Zeman, A. Z. J., Della Sala, S., Torrens, L. A., Gountouna, V.-E., McGonigle, D. J., & Logie, R. H. (2010). Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: a case of ‘blind imagination’. Neuropsychologia, 48(1), 145–155. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.024