The human imagination: the cognitive neuroscience of visual mental imagery

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2019 Oct;20(10):624-634. doi: 10.1038/s41583-019-0202-9.


Mental imagery can be advantageous, unnecessary and even clinically disruptive. With methodological constraints now overcome, research has shown that visual imagery involves a network of brain areas from the frontal cortex to sensory areas, overlapping with the default mode network, and can function much like a weak version of afferent perception. Imagery vividness and strength range from completely absent (aphantasia) to photo-like (hyperphantasia). Both the anatomy and function of the primary visual cortex are related to visual imagery. The use of imagery as a tool has been linked to many compound cognitive processes and imagery plays both symptomatic and mechanistic roles in neurological and mental disorders and treatments.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Neuroscience / methods
  • Cognitive Neuroscience / trends*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*