A meta-analytic review of multisensory imagery identifies the neural correlates of modality-specific and modality-general imagery

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Oct 17;6:285. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00285. eCollection 2012.


The relationship between imagery and mental representations induced through perception has been the subject of philosophical discussion since antiquity and of vigorous scientific debate in the last century. The relatively recent advent of functional neuroimaging has allowed neuroscientists to look for brain-based evidence for or against the argument that perceptual processes underlie mental imagery. Recent investigations of imagery in many new domains and the parallel development of new meta-analytic techniques now afford us a clearer picture of the relationship between the neural processes underlying imagery and perception, and indeed between imagery and other cognitive processes. This meta-analysis surveyed 65 studies investigating modality-specific imagery in auditory, tactile, motor, gustatory, olfactory, and three visual sub-domains: form, color and motion. Activation likelihood estimate (ALE) analyses of activation foci reported within- and across sensorimotor modalities were conducted. The results indicate that modality-specific imagery activations generally overlap with-but are not confined to-corresponding somatosensory processing and motor execution areas, and suggest that there is a core network of brain regions recruited during imagery, regardless of task. These findings have important implications for investigations of imagery and theories of cognitive processes, such as perceptually-based representational systems.

Keywords: embodied cognition; imagery; imagination; modality-independent; modality-specific; semantic memory.