Graphical illustration and functional neuroimaging of visual hallucinations during prolonged blindfolding: a comparison to visual imagery

Perception. 2008;37(12):1805-21. doi: 10.1068/p6034.


Visual hallucinations can occur in healthy subjects during prolonged visual deprivation. We investigated the visual percepts and the associated brain activity in a 37-year-old healthy female subject who developed visual hallucinations during three weeks of blindfolding, and then compared this activity with the cortical activity associated with mental imagery of the same patterns. We acquired fMRI data with a Siemens 3T Magnetom Allegra towards the end of the deprivation period to assess hallucination-related activity, and again after recovery from blindfolding to measure imagery-related activity. Detailed subjective descriptions and graphical illustrations were provided by the subject after blindfolding was completed. The subject reported the occurrence of simple and elementary hallucinations, consisting of flashes and coloured and moving patterns during the period of blindfolding. Neural activity related to hallucinations was found in extrastriate occipital, posterior parietal, and several prefrontal regions. In contrast, mental imagery of the same percepts led to activation in prefrontal, but not in posterior, parietal, and occipital regions. These results suggest that deprivation-induced hallucinations result from increased excitability of extrastriate visual areas, while mentally induced imagery involves active read-out under the volitional control of prefrontal structures. This agrees with the subject's report that visual hallucinations were more vivid than mental imagery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / etiology
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology*
  • Hallucinations / psychology
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiopathology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*