Aphantasia is the suggested name for a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind's eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery. The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 but has remained largely unstudied since. Interest in the phenomenon renewed after the publication of a study conducted by a team led by Prof. Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter which also coined the term aphantasia. Research on the subject is still scarce, but further studies are planned.
The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 in a statistical study about mental imagery. Galton described it as a common phenomenon among his peers. However, it remained largely unstudied until 2005, when Prof. Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter was approached by MX, a man who seemed to have lost the ability to visualize after undergoing minor surgery. Following publication of MX's case in 2010, Zeman was approached by a number of people reporting a lifelong inability to visualise. In 2015 Zeman's team published a paper on what they termed "congenital aphantasia", sparking renewed interest in the phenomenon now known simply as aphantasia. Research on the subject is still scarce, but further studies are being planned.
In the original paper by Prof. Adam Zeman, the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) is used to evaluate the quality of the mental image. This questionnaire invites the person to visualize a series of images (a relative, a rising sun, a shop they know, etc) and rank how vivid the images is, from "Perfectly clear and lively as real seeing" (5 points) to "No image at all, you only know that you are thinking of the object" (1 point). It's categorized as a aphantasia if they total a score of 30 or less across 16 questions.
In the same paper was also identified that aphantasia characterizes only voluntary image is affected, the people in the aphantasia group were still able to have involuntary imagery (i.e. dreams).
In popular culture
In April 2016 an essay by Blake Ross was published on Facebook, describing his own aphantasia and his realisation that not everyone experiences it. His account gained wide circulation on social media.
In December 2017 a book by Alan Kendle was published. Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights contains a collection of insights from various contributors detailing their lives with aphantasia. The book has a foreword by Prof. Adam Zeman.
Aphantasia is similar to invisible disabilities such as face blindness, word blindness, and tone deafness,[need quotation to verify] though aphantasia itself has not been associated with any functional deficits.
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- Galton, Francis (19 July 1880). "Statistics of Mental Imagery". Mind. Oxford Journals. os–V (19): 301–318. doi:10.1093/mind/os-V.19.301. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
- Zeman, Adam; Dewar, Michaela; Della Sala, Sergio (3 June 2015). "Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia". Cortex. 73: 378–380. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019. ISSN 0010-9452. PMID 26115582. Retrieved 24 June 2015. (Subscription required (. ))
- Gallagher, James (26 August 2015). "Aphantasia: A life without mental images". BBC News Online. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
- Zimmer, Carl (22 June 2015). "Picture This? Some Just Can't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
- Grinnell, Dustin (20 April 2016). "My mind's eye is blind – so what's going on in my brain?". New Scientist (2070). Retrieved 9 July 2016.
- "To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of science to whom I first applied, protested that mental imagery was unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in supposing that the words 'mental imagery' really expressed what I believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of its true nature than a colour-blind man who has not discerned his defect has of the nature of colour." (Galton, 1880)
- "You might not be able to imagine things, and not know it". The Independent. 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-12-16.
- Zeman, Adam Z. J.; Della Sala, Sergio; Torrens, Lorna A.; Gountouna, Viktoria-Eleni; McGonigle, David J.; Logie, Robert H. (2010-01-01). "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: A case of 'blind imagination'". Neuropsychologia. 48 (1): 145–155. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.024.
- Ross, Blake (22 April 2016). "Aphantasia: How it feels to be blind in your mind". Facebook. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
- Kendle, Alan (7 December 2017). Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights. Bennion Kearny. ISBN 1911121421.
- Wolcher, Louis E. (2016-06-17). The Ethics of Justice Without Illusions. Routledge. ISBN 9781317518341.