The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) is the go-to psychometric measurement for researchers studying extreme imagination. It has been proven to be an accurate test of the intensity with which you can visualize settings, people and objects in the mind; and is often used as a subjective measure to identify aphantasia.
The VVIQ gives specific scenarios and asks you to rank how vividly you can visualize them on a scale of one to five. It presents four groups of four questions. Each group asks you to consider a specific scene and each question asks about the vividness of details within the scene (with prompts).
It was developed by British scientist David Marks during his research on consciousness in the 1973, when research on aphantasia was still infrequent.
At the time, aphantasia didn’t even have a name and people who took the VVIQ were classified as either ‘good visual imagers’ or ‘poor visual imagers’. The study was conducted in order to compare vividness of visual imagery with mental discrimination tasks like spotting the difference between two nearly-identical images, with the VVIQ being designed to identify those with weaker or stronger visual imagery.
The results of these early studies showed, as predicted, that those who scored higher on the visual imagery test were likely to have an easier time completing mental discrimination tasks.
In 1995, Mckelvie published a second version of the VVIQ with more questions. Both the VVIQ and the VVIQ2 are regarded as accurate tools for identifying those with weaker mental imagery skills. A low score of 30 or less on the VVIQ (or a high score on the VVIQ2 since the scale is flipped) is characteristic of aphantasia.
Since the VVIQ was first published, it has been referenced in over 1200 studies. As with any test that relies on subjective reporting, there can be some questions about the validity and accuracy of results. For example, it can be hard to classify the vividness of a mental image on a scale from 1-5 when you have nothing to use as a reference point. It is difficult to rank your vividness of mental imagery when you can’t know how strongly other people visualize. The test asks you to compare the vision in your head with how you know it looks in real life in order to reconcile this somewhat: is the scenario you are being asked to visualize equally vivid to its real world counterpart, a little less vivid, or not vivid at all/non-existent?
Further, any test that relies on self-reporting will always be subject to some human bias due to the fact that you are more likely to subconsciously (or consciously) choose answers that will give you the result that you want.
Suffice to say, the test is often correct, but not always.
You may find after taking the test that you are more biased about your visualization skills based on what results the test gives you. This is why the VVIQ is usually recommended as an initial evaluation but not a conclusive diagnosis of whether or not you have aphantasia.
It’s also worth noting that VVIQ only measures visual imagery, there are other sensory imagery factors to consider (auditory and olfactory to name a few) that will determine whether or not you have aphantasia.
The important thing to understand is that imagination is a spectrum.
There are wide-ranging sensory imagery abilities and differences in thinking across the spectrum of imagination. For example, you could have very vivid auditory imagery in the mind’s ear but no visual imagery in the mind’s eye. Each individual is unique in their experience.
That said, current research using VVIQ instrument and other research techniques would suggest that visual imagery follows the logic of a standard distribution (bell curve). The same can be said about auditory and other sensory imagery abilities related to imagination. This means, the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of the imagination spectrum or have phantasia, the ability for some sensory imagery with varying degrees of vividness.
Fewer people fall on the extremes of imagination; aphantasia, the inability to produce any sensory imagery in the mind, and hyperphantasia, an extreme ability for sensory imagery.
How do I gain a deeper understanding of where I might fall on the imagination spectrum?
To gain deeper perspective on where you might fall on the imagination spectrum, make sure to back up your VVIQ results with a second measurement that is more objective and based on objective data outside of self-reporting.We recommend using the VVIQ alongside a binocular rivalry (BR) experiment and/or mental rotation (MR) tasks as an immediate next step to test for further evidence of your visual imagery abilities. These experiments could illuminate new discoveries about where you might fall on the imagination spectrum.
Interested in participating in the ongoing research around aphantasia? There are currently several research projects underway to better understand the neurological underpinnings of this phenomenon. We are always posting new opportunities to participate in research and further fMRI studies on our discussion page. Make sure to check back periodically for new updates.
Finally, we are currently working in collaboration with some of the lead scientists, researchers and neurologists studying aphantasia to develop a new self-report instrument that would subjectively measure all sensory imagery abilities, beyond visual imagery. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter below to receive an update when the new instrument is released.
The following is a summary of next steps: