Topographical representations of mental images in primary visual cortex

Nature. 1995 Nov 30;378(6556):496-8. doi: 10.1038/378496a0.


We report here the use of positron emission tomography (PET) to reveal that the primary visual cortex is activated when subjects close their eyes and visualize objects. The size of the image is systematically related to the location of maximal activity, which is as expected because the earliest visual areas are spatially organized. These results were only evident, however, when imagery conditions were compared to a non-imagery baseline in which the same auditory cues were presented (and hence the stimuli were controlled); when a resting baseline was used (and hence brain activation was uncontrolled), imagery activation was obscured because of activation in visual cortex during the baseline condition. These findings resolve a debate in the literature about whether imagery activates early visual cortex and indicate that visual mental imagery involves 'depictive' representations, not solely language-like descriptions. Moreover, the fact that stored visual information can affect processing in even the earliest visual areas suggests that knowledge can fundamentally bias what one sees.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed
  • Visual Cortex / blood supply
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*