Aphantasia overview

Aphantasia is a phenomenon in which people cannot imagine images.Although most people can evoke an image of a scene or face in their minds, they have Fantasia can not.

Imagine it is a warm summer day and you are sitting by the swimming pool. The sun was shining, and the children were laughing and playing in the water. When you think of this scene, what kind of picture do you see in your mind?

If you are like an estimated 1-3% of people with dementia, you may not be able to imagine any type of image in your mind.

These people have no “eyes of the soul”, or their imagination is basically blind. This ability to visualize events and images plays an important role in people’s lives.

People often visualize scenes, characters, experiences, imaginations, objects, and planned events. For example, when you think of friends, you might immediately imagine their faces in your mind. People with hallucinations cannot imagine such a mental image.

If you ask a person with hallucinations to imagine something, they are likely to describe the object, explain the concept, and tell the facts they know about the object. But they will not be able to experience any form of mental image to accompany this knowledge.


Do you think you may have hallucinations? Consider the following questions:

  • Think of friends or family. Try to imagine their faces in your mind. How clearly can you see their features, faces, hair, and shapes?
  • How clearly can you describe their unique movements and gestures?
  • Can you describe that person’s clothes vividly?

If you are confused about the answers to these questions, you may have some degree of hallucinations.

Emerging research

This lack of mental imagery was described as early in the late 1800s, but it is still a relatively unresearched phenomenon. Francis Galton described this situation for the first time in a paper on mental imagery published in 1880. In addition to pointing out that people experience varying degrees of vividness when describing their mental visual imagery, he also reported that some people have never experienced visual imagery at all.

Although further research is ongoing, this situation remains largely unstudied and still poorly understood.

Most of the available information comes from small studies and anecdotes from people who describe their symptoms.

It wasn’t until other studies were published that interest in this topic grew. A 2015 study used the term aphantasia for the first time and renewed interest in this phenomenon.

One patient (MX patient) was in contact with the author of this groundbreaking study, who recently lost the ability to visualize information after minor surgery. In 2005, a 65-year-old retired man visited a neurologist named Adam Zeman at the University of Exeter School of Medicine. This man is called MX in the literature. After undergoing a minor operation, he realized that he could no longer imagine images in his mind. Zeman’s search of the medical literature hardly explains why this person can no longer generate visual images in his “eyes of the mind.”

For a long time, researchers have been arguing about how this ability to visualize in the mind works and what role it might play in planning and memory. Although the patient described hardly any images, his performance in tests of perception, visual images, and visual memory was normal.

After the details of the patient’s case were announced in 2010, many people contacted the researchers, who described having experienced similar symptoms throughout their lives.

Another study conducted by researchers at the University of New South Wales investigated the question of whether people with dementia are really unable to form mental images, or they just have poor recollection of these images.The researchers used a technique called “binocular competition” to get participants to imagine an image. Then show the participants two different images through the 3D headset. One eye sees an image, while the other eye sees a completely different image.

When told to imagine one of these images in advance, people without hallucinations are more likely to see the image they previously imagined. There is no such correlation between the imagined image and the dominant image that people see. These findings indicate that it is not that people with hallucinations have poor recollections of their imaginations-they did not have such visual imaginations in the first place.

Possible explanation

Although the research is limited, the existing research results provide some clues as to what can explain aphasia.

  • In the case of MX, a functional MRI scan found that the brain activation pattern when viewing pictures of celebrity faces was not significantly different from normal controls.However, when the patient tried to visualize the image, the activation pattern of the posterior network was significantly reduced, while the activity of the frontal lobe area was significantly increased compared to the control group.
  • Researchers believe that this indicates that patients rely on different cognitive strategies in imaging tasks.
  • The author further proposes that such results indicate that the performance of visual memory and visual image tasks does not depend on the actual experience of visual images.

Illusion and memory

When people are usually reminded of memories, they are usually able to imagine the event as if they were replaying the video of the experience. They often recall specific images that stand out in their memory. For people with hallucinations, the memory of an event is usually just a series of facts.

Although the exact nature and effects of this condition are unclear, research does indicate that aphasia may have a negative impact on memory.

People with hallucinations may remember the day they got married, the names of the people who participated, and even the weather that day, but they cannot form a mental image of the event.

Some people affected by this situation have also reported difficulties in recognizing faces or navigating spaces.

However, lack of visual memory may have some possible advantages. Due to the lack of visual images due to hallucinations, people are less likely to be bothered by intrusive memories or disturbing flashbacks.

People with hallucinations do experience visual images when dreaming. This shows that only intentional and voluntary visualization will be affected by this phenomenon. Zeman explained to the BBC’s “Science Focus” magazine that this is possible because the brain behaves differently when it is awake than when it is dreaming. The dream image comes from a bottom-up process controlled by the brainstem. On the other hand, visualization requires top-down processing from the cerebral cortex.

Coexist with Fantasia

Unable to imagine the people and places that might make people with dementia feel miserable. For example, it can be frustrating to not be able to imagine the face of a deceased relative.

Existing research shows that suffering from hallucinations does not necessarily impair a person’s success in life. People from all walks of life have experienced this phenomenon, including successful doctoral students, engineers, and other professionals.

It should be noted that this phenomenon is a normal change in human experience, not a condition that requires treatment. However, this does not mean that it may not have an impact on different aspects of your life. Mental imagery also plays a role in learning, so the inability to imagine the scene in your mind may make certain aspects of learning more difficult.

There are still many questions about this phenomenon, including how common it may be and whether it may have a genetic component.

Need more research

Researchers suggest that future investigations of the disease should focus not only on its causes and effects, but also on possible ways to improve mental imagination. However, further research and a better understanding of the condition are needed to make such recommendations.

If you suspect that you may have amnesia, consider exploring some new memory strategies. The inability to visualize can make certain types of memory more difficult, so you may need to try to find a technique that works for you. Even though you may not be able to visualize the scenes or characters in your mind, you can use photography, illustration, design software, and other visualization tools to fill this gap.

Very good sentence

The research on aphantasia is still in its infancy, so there is still a lot to learn. Many people with hallucinations do not even realize that their experience is any different from that of others. This is only part of their existence and has little effect on their lifestyle. Neurologist Adam Zeman (Aphantasia) is the creator of the term, and in a radio interview he described it simply as “a fascinating change experienced by humans, not a medical disease.” British Broadcasting Corporation.