Are People with Aphantasia Verbal Thinkers?

Julia Simner addresses a common misconception that aphantasics must be verbal thinkers in this presentation from the 2021 Extreme Imagination Conference.
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Are People with Aphantasia Verbal Thinkers? With Julia Simner

How do people with aphantasia think?

Dr. Julia Simner challenges the misconception that people with aphantasia must be “verbal thinkers” in this presentation from the 2021 Extreme Imagination Conference and Exhibition.

Studies from the lab showed that people with aphantasia actually report less verbal thinking styles but are not impaired in visual and verbal tasks. Their low visual and verbal thinking style might initially suggest that people with aphantasia have thinking deficits – however, multiple studies found this was not the case: people with aphantasia were not impaired by these differences and were just as accurate – or better — than controls in several visual and verbal tasks (e.g., colour memory, spelling, factual recall).

Their thinking is iconic, simulating real-world objects, which means they possess knowledge of visual and auditory information but do not express it as imagery. These results offer an alternative perspective or explanation, people with aphantasia do not have a “blind mind’s eye” or even a “deaf mind’s ear.”

Instead, they have a “knowing mind’s eye/ear,” says Simner.

About the Extreme Imagination Conference

Extreme Imagination conference and exhibition is a gathering of the world’s foremost thinkers, scientists and creatives challenging long-held beliefs about what it means to imagine and create. The first event was brought to life by Dr. Adam Zeman and the Eye’s Mind team at the University of Exeter in 2019. In 2021, the second conference was hosted virtually by the Aphantasia Network.

About the Researcher

Julia (Jools) Simner is a Professor of Neuropsychology, specialising in adults and children with sensory and imagery differences. Her education and career have taken her to the Universities of Oxford, Toronto, Edinburgh and Sussex, and she currently runs the MULTISENSE and SUSSEX IMAGERY labs. Her work focusses on the psychology and neuroscience of special populations including those with aphantasia, synesthesia, misophonia, savantism, objectophilia, and sensory sensitivities. She is the Science Officer for the UK Synaesthesia Association, Director of the ERC-funded SYNTOOLKIT project, and Director of the REAM-funded Misophonia-hub. Her research has been profiled in newspaper, TV and radio reports worldwide, including by the BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, CBC, Psychology Today, Times of India, New Zealand Herald etc. Jools Simner has aphantasia.