A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia

Alexei J. Dawes, Rebecca Keogh, Thomas Andrillon, Joel Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

For most people, visual imagery is an innate feature of many of our internal experiences, and appears to play a critical role in supporting core cognitive processes. Some individuals, however, lack the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery altogether – a condition termed “aphantasia”. Recent research suggests that aphantasia is a condition defined by the absence of visual imagery, rather than a lack of metacognitive awareness of internal visual imagery. Here we further illustrate a cognitive “fingerprint” of aphantasia, demonstrating that compared to control participants with imagery ability, aphantasic individuals report decreased imagery in other sensory domains, although not all report a complete lack of multi-sensory imagery. They also report less vivid and phenomenologically rich autobiographical memories and imagined future scenarios, suggesting a constructive role for visual imagery in representing episodic events. Interestingly, aphantasic individuals report fewer and qualitatively impoverished dreams compared to controls. However, spatial abilities appear unaffected, and aphantasic individuals do not appear to be considerably protected against all forms of trauma symptomatology in response to stressful life events. Collectively, these data suggest that imagery may be a normative representational tool for wider cognitive processes, highlighting the large inter-individual variability that characterises our internal mental representations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10022
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • neuroscience
  • psychology

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