Brain areas underlying visual mental imagery and visual perception: an fMRI study

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2004 Jul;20(2):226-41. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2004.02.012.


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the maximal degree of shared neural processing in visual mental imagery and visual perception. Participants either visualized or saw faint drawings of simple objects, and then judged specific aspects of the drawings (which could only be evaluated properly if they used the correct stimulus). The results document that visual imagery and visual perception draw on most of the same neural machinery. However, although the vast majority of activated voxels were activated during both conditions, the spatial overlap was neither complete nor uniform; the overlap was much more pronounced in frontal and parietal regions than in temporal and occipital regions. This finding may indicate that cognitive control processes function comparably in both imagery and perception, whereas at least some sensory processes may be engaged differently by visual imagery and perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebellum / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*