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The Eye’s Mind: perspectives on visual imagery

From 4/17/2023 to 4/17/2023

​Adam ZEMAN (University of Exeter Medical School, UK) has given a talk on Monday 17, April. 

Short abstract:

For most of us visual imagery is a conspicuous ingredient of the imaginative experience which allows us to escape from the here and now into the past, the future and the worlds conceived by science and art. There appears to be wide inter-individual variation in the vividness of visual imagery. Although the British psychologist Galton together with the Parisian neurologist Charcot and his psychiatrist colleague Cotard - recognised that some individuals may lack wakeful imagery entirely, the existence of ‘extreme imagery’ has been oddly neglected since this early work. In 2015 we coined the term ‘aphantasia’ to describe the lack of the mind’s eye, describing 21 individuals who reported a lifelong inability to visualise (Cortex, 2015;73:378-80). Since then we have heard from around 14,000 people, most reporting lifelong aphantasia, or its converse hyperphantasia, but also less common ‘acquired’ imagery loss resulting from brain injury or psychological disorder. Preliminary analyses suggests association between vividness extremes, occupational preference and reported abilities in face recognition and autobiographical memory. Many people with lifelong aphantasia nevertheless dream visually. Imagery in other modalities is variably affected. Extreme imagery appears to run in families more often than would be expected by chance. I will describe the findings of our recent pilot study of neuropsychological and brain imaging signatures of extreme imagery, and place our study of a- and hyper-phantasia in the context of the Eye’s Mind project, an interdisciplinary collaboration funded by the AHRC [1]. In addition to our work on extreme imagery, we have reviewed the intellectual history of visual imagery [2] and undertaken a recent ALE meta-analysis of functional imaging studies of visualisation [3].


[2]: MacKisack et al, Frontiers in Psychology, 515:1-16. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00515
[3]: Winlove et al, Cortex, 2018

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