The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia

Cortex. 2018 Aug:105:53-60. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012. Epub 2017 Oct 28.


For most people the use of visual imagery is pervasive in daily life, but for a small group of people the experience of visual imagery is entirely unknown. Research based on subjective phenomenology indicates that otherwise healthy people can completely lack the experience of visual imagery, a condition now referred to as aphantasia. As congenital aphantasia has thus far been based on subjective reports, it remains unclear whether individuals are really unable to imagine visually, or if they have very poor metacognition - they have images in their mind, but are blind to them. Here we measured sensory imagery in subjectively self-diagnosed aphantasics, using the binocular rivalry paradigm, as well as measuring their self-rated object and spatial imagery with multiple questionnaires (VVIQ, SUIS and OSIQ). Unlike, the general population, experimentally naive aphantasics showed almost no imagery-based rivalry priming. Aphantasic participants' self-rated visual object imagery was significantly below average, however their spatial imagery scores were above average. These data suggest that aphantasia is a condition involving a lack of sensory and phenomenal imagery, and not a lack of metacognition. The possible underlying neurological cause of aphantasia is discussed as well as future research directions.

Keywords: Aphantasia; Cognition; Individual differences; Mental imagery; Visual imagery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy*
  • Imagination
  • Individuality*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Perception / physiology*