Aphantasia and Mental Imagery

Aphantasia is the inability to visualize but can impact all mental imagery senses. Joel Pearson joins Founder of Aphantasia Network, Tom Ebeyer, for a live Ask Me Anything event to answer the community's questions.
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Aphantasia and Mental Imagery With Joel Pearson

Mental imagery refers to the experience of creating sensory information in one’s mind without external input from the senses. This can involve visual images, sounds, smells, tastes, movements, or tactile sensations. Aphantasia refers to the inability to create mental images, and recent studies have shown that it can also affect other sensory modalities.

Understanding the variations of imagery differences across sensory domains is important to gain a more comprehensive view of how human imagination works and how it might be related to other cognitive processes, such as memory and creativity.

Joel Pearson is a cognitive scientists and the Founder and Director of the Future Minds Lab at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Pearson joins the Aphantasia Network for a live Ask Me Anything member event to answer some of our community’s burning questions about Aphantasia and Mental Imagery.


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 metods of support or teaching that you recommend?

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

Dawes, A. J., Keogh, R., Andrillon, T., & Pearson, J. (2020). A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 10022. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-65705-7
Pearson, J. (2019). The human imagination: the cognitive neuroscience of visual mental imagery. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 20(10), 624–634. doi:10.1038/s41583-019-0202-9
Keogh, R., & Pearson, J. (2018). The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia. Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior, 105, 53–60. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012