Do You Have Aphantasia?


FOTCM Member
I found some recent videos on YouTube with people that have no internal monologue and/or have aphantasia:

Q&A with a person who does not have an internal monologue

My Girlfriend Has No Inner Monologue or Mind's Eye | Q&A

It's really interesting how different people's brains can work.

A good place I found to practice visualization besides meditation is in the shower. I'd imagine something wholesome such as a tree on a hill overlooking plains in the distance. Visualization is like a muscle. When it's not used for a while, there's only faint images or images that last for only a few seconds, but with practice they can get clearer.

I watched that video with the interview with the person who doesn't have an internal monologue a couple of days ago and found it really fascinating. My own thinking tends to be dominated by a monologue and visualization plays a much lesser role. Picturing something in my mind tends to require more effort.

I especially found it interesting that she seems to have a different view of languages (which she studies), seeing more of their structure and rules rather than a linear type perspective (if I understood it right). I could kind of relate to the way she talks about writing essays - when I'm really 'in the zone' with writing I start to get that sort of perspective - almost like seeing the whole piece as a structure and reordering and changing things from that perspective. When something doesn't fit, or a thought isn't expressed as well as it could be, it's almost like there's an aesthetic issue with the whole structure, like a part of a painting where the perspective isn't quite right.

Anyway, I find this 'different ways of thinking' discussion really interesting.


FOTCM Member
An interesting recent brain imaging study of people with aphantasia:

Brain connections mean some people lack visual imagery​

New research has revealed that people with the ability to visualise vividly have a stronger connection between their visual network and the regions of the brain linked to decision-making. The study also sheds light on memory and personality differences between those with strong visual imagery and those who cannot hold a picture in their mind’s eye.

The research, from the University of Exeter, published in Cerebral Cortex Communications, casts new light on why an estimated one-three per cent of the population lack the ability to visualise. This phenomenon was named “aphantasia” by the University of Exeter’s Professor Adam Zeman in 2015 Professor Zeman called those with highly developed visual imagery skills “hyperphantasics”.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the study is the first systematic neuropsychological and brain imaging study of people with aphantasia and hypephantasia. The team conducted fMRI scans on 24 people with aphantasia, 25 with hyperphantasia and a control group of 20 people with mid-range imagery vividness. They combined the imaging data with detailed cognitive and personality tests.

The scans revealed that people with hyperphantasia have a stronger connection between the visual network which processes what we see, and which becomes active during visual imagery, and the prefrontal cortices, involved in decision-making and attention. These stronger connections were apparent in scans performed during rest, while participants were relaxing – and possibly mind-wandering.

Despite equivalent scores on standard memory tests, Professor Zeman and the team found that people with hyperphantasia produce richer descriptions of imagined scenarios than controls, who in turn outperformed aphantasics. This also applied to autobiographical memory, or the ability to remember events that have taken place in the person’s life. Aphantasics also had lower ability to recognise faces.

Personality tests revealed that aphantasics tended to be more introvert and hyperphantasics more open.

Professor Zeman said: “Our research indicates for the first time that a weaker connection between the parts of the brain responsible for vision and frontal regions involved in decision-making and attention leads to aphantasia. However, this shouldn’t be viewed as a disadvantage – it’s a different way of experiencing the world. Many aphantasics are extremely high-achieving, and we’re now keen to explore whether the personality and memory differences we observed indicate contrasting ways of processing information, linked to visual imagery ability.”

The study is entitled ‘Behavioral and Neural Signatures of Visual Imagery Vividness Extremes: Aphantasia vs. Hyperphantasia’ and is published in Cerebral Cortex Communications.

Date: 9 June 2021 (Source)

The abstract:

Although Galton recognized in the 1880s that some individuals lack visual imagery, this phenomenon was mostly neglected over the following century. We recently coined the terms “aphantasia” and “hyperphantasia” to describe visual imagery vividness extremes, unlocking a sustained surge of public interest. Aphantasia is associated with subjective impairment of face recognition and autobiographical memory. Here we report the first systematic, wide-ranging neuropsychological and brain imaging study of people with aphantasia (n = 24), hyperphantasia (n = 25), and midrange imagery vividness (n = 20). Despite equivalent performance on standard memory tests, marked group differences were measured in autobiographical memory and imagination, participants with hyperphantasia outperforming controls who outperformed participants with aphantasia. Face recognition difficulties and autistic spectrum traits were reported more commonly in aphantasia. The Revised NEO Personality Inventory highlighted reduced extraversion in the aphantasia group and increased openness in the hyperphantasia group. Resting state fMRI revealed stronger connectivity between prefrontal cortices and the visual network among hyperphantasic than aphantasic participants. In an active fMRI paradigm, there was greater anterior parietal activation among hyperphantasic and control than aphantasic participants when comparing visualization of famous faces and places with perception. These behavioral and neural signatures of visual imagery vividness extremes validate and illuminate this significant but neglected dimension of individual difference.


A Disturbance in the Force
Interesting topic, I have had conversations at work about this.

Being able to visualize the things needed to be done, say building, moving material efficiently, how removed material may look and how equipment set up will fit or work in the area.

I was surprised not everyone had the same outlook. However most of the people I worked with were able to do this at some level or another.

Having a person pointing around a room discussing their grand plan of things while your visualizing it yourself in real time is pretty interesting.

Makes me wonder if another sense is raised or is presented in lieu of what is discussed.

Thanks for bringing this topic back to the surface.


Well, "seeing" things with the mind's eye IS VERY MUCH LIKE REMEMBERING HOW THINGS LOOK.

When I close my eyes to visualize something, I have the "blackness" or cloud like things going on behind my eyes, too. BUT the imaginal image is in a different place than something you see with your eyes or any kind of physical eyes. If you are doing a quick visualization, it is "ghostly", but if you concentrate on something over time, it can become as real in your mind as if it were in the room with you. Almost like your closed eyelids were a screen on which things are projected.

So, just practice remembering how things look and meditate on some simple objects regularly. I'm sure you can train your mind to do this more easily.

I think maybe people being unable to do this stems from living in an age of TV and movies. When you read a book, you have to visualize everything happening - or at least I do. And I would much rather read a book than watch a movie. The movies I make in my head are way more interesting than those on screens.

Adding the information of other sensory inputs (e.g. hear, touch, smell, taste) is also a very good way to breath life into an imagined object/person/environment/scenario. Especially since most people have a preference for one of their five senses; if you are more of an "auditory" type of person for instance, you'll find easier to start imagining sounds (creating your canvas) then add other sensory inputs on top of that (then paint the scene).

Although it was designed for Creative Problem Solving (CPS), the technique of Image Streaming created by Win Wenger also has the secondary effect of enhancing visualization (involving all senses). Here's a quick rundown of the technique :

  1. Ask yourself a question.

  2. Start the Image Stream. Have a live listener or tape recorder with you. Sit back, relax, close your eyes, and describe aloud whatever images suggest themselves. Go with your first, immediate impressions and describe them aloud, rapid-flow, in sensory detail. More free images will then emerge. Notice when the scene changes or other images emerge, and describe these, as well.
    It's important to describe aloud, to bring the mind's images into conscious awareness, no matter how unrelated the images may at first appear. This process helps bridge the separate regions of the brain.
    Let yourself be surprised by what your images reveal to you. The more surprising, the more likely that you're getting fresh input from your subtler, more comprehensive and more accurate faculties.

  3. Feature-Questioning. Pick out some one feature—a wall, a tree or bush, whatever's there. Imagine laying a hand on that feature and studying its feel (and describe that feel), to strengthen your contact with the experience. Ask that rock or bush or wall, "Why are you here as part of my answer?" See if the imagery changes when you ask that question. Describe the changes.

  4. Inductive Inference.Once you've run a set of images, thank your Image-Streaming faculties for showing you this answer. Ask their help in understanding the messages in your images. They are often symbolic.
    Repeat the process by starting a new Image-Stream, with entirely different images which nonetheless somehow are still giving you the same answer to the same question. After 2 to 3 minutes of this new imagery, repeat this step to get a third set of images, each different, yet each showing you the same answer a different way.

  5. What's the Same? Examine whatever's the same among the several sets of images when all else is different. These themes or elements-in-common are your core answer or message.

  6. Relate. Go back to your original question and determine in what way or ways these core elements are the answer to your question.

  7. Debrief. Summarize this whole experience either to another person (directly or by telephone) or to notebook or computer. This change of medium, and change of feedbacks, should add further to your understanding.

If you are aphantasic, chances are you won't see any images spontaneously. However there are many backup procedures available to jump-start the process. In any case, the more details you draw out (in all five sensory inputs) the more vivid the images will be. And the quicker and longer you describe, the more your unconscious gets involved in the process (as the conscious is too caught up describing to sensor/control the imaging process). The unconscious is the engine behind the imagination process, melding into a coherent whole countless pieces of information. That way the conscious and unconscious learn to work together on the issue at hand. In a way, as a medium of exchange of information, imagination is a co-creation between the conscious and unconscious.

There are many other techniques of CPS and Accelerated Learning based on this one and more still on Win Wenger's website for free, it's worth checking out. Perhaps it is an additional (and fun) way of learning how to imagine while working on a problem or some creative project.
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