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Aphantasia is the inability to voluntarily create mental images in one's mind.[1]

The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880[2] but has since remained relatively unstudied. Interest in the phenomenon renewed after the publication of a study in 2015 conducted by a team led by Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter.[3] Zeman's team coined the term aphantasia,[4] derived from the Ancient Greek word phantasia (φᾰντᾰσῐ́ᾱ), which means 'imagination', and the prefix a- (ᾰ̓-), which means 'without'.[5]

Research on the condition is still scarce.[6][7] Hyperphantasia, the condition of having extremely vivid mental imagery, is the opposite of aphantasia.[8]


The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 in a statistical study about mental imagery,[2] describing it as a common phenomenon among his peers.[9] It remained largely unstudied until 2005, when Professor 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.[10] Following the publication of MX's case in 2010,[11] a number of people approached Zeman reporting a lifelong inability to visualise. In 2015, Zeman's team published a paper on what they termed "congenital aphantasia",[3] sparking renewed interest in the phenomenon.[4]


Zeman's 2015 paper[3] used the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) to evaluate the quality of the mental image of 21 self-diagnosed and self-selected participants. He identified that aphantasics lack voluntary visualizations only; they are still able to have involuntary visualizations such as dreams.

In 2017, a paper published by Rebecca Keogh and Joel Pearson, researchers at University of New South Wales, measured the sensory capacity of mental imagery using binocular-rivalry (BR) and imagery-based priming and found that when asked to imagine a stimulus, the self-reported aphantasics experienced almost no perceptual priming, compared to those who reported higher imagery scores where perceptual priming had an effect.[12] In 2020, Keogh and Pearson published another paper illustrating measurable differences correlated with visual imagery, this time by indirectly measuring cortical excitability in the primary visual cortex (V1).[13]

A 2020 study concluded that those who experience aphantasia also experience reduced imagery in other senses, and have less vivid autobiographical memories.[14]

In 2021, a study[15] that measured the perspiration (skin conductance levels) of participants in response to reading a frightening story and then viewing fear-inducing images found that participants with aphantasia, but not the other population, experienced a flat-line physiological response during the reading experiment, but no difference in physiological responses to fear-inducing stimuli was found when participants perceptually viewed fearful images. The study concluded the evidence supported the emotional amplification theory of visual imagery.

In addition to congenital aphantasia, there have been cases reported of acquired aphantasia, due either to brain injury or psychological causes.[16][17]

Notable people with aphantasia[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Larner AJ (2016). A Dictionary of Neurological Signs. Springer. pp. 29–30. ISBN 978-3319298214. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  2. ^ a b Galton F (19 July 1880). "Statistics of Mental Imagery". Mind. os–V (19): 301–318. doi:10.1093/mind/os-V.19.301. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Zeman A, Dewar M, Della Sala S (December 2015). "Lives without imagery - Congenital aphantasia". Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 73: 378–80. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019. hdl:10871/17613. PMID 26115582. S2CID 19224930.
  4. ^ a b Gallagher J (26 August 2015). "Aphantasia: A life without mental images". BBC News Online. Archived from the original on 26 August 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  5. ^ Clemens A (1 August 2018). "When the Mind's Eye is Blind". Scientific American.
  6. ^ Zimmer C (22 June 2015). "Picture This? Some Just Can't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  7. ^ Grinnell D (20 April 2016). "My mind's eye is blind – so what's going on in my brain?". New Scientist (2070). Archived from the original on 18 September 2016. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  8. ^ "An update on 'extreme imagination' – aphantasia / hyperphantasia | The Eye's Mind". Retrieved 2021-03-10.
  9. ^ "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)
  10. ^ "You might not be able to imagine things, and not know it". The Independent. 2016-04-25. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-16.
  11. ^ Zeman AZ, Della Sala S, Torrens LA, Gountouna VE, McGonigle DJ, Logie RH (January 2010). "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: a case of 'blind imagination'". Neuropsychologia. 48 (1): 145–55. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.024. PMID 19733188. S2CID 207235666.
  12. ^ Keogh R, Pearson J (August 2018). "The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia" (PDF). Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 105: 53–60. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012. PMID 29175093. S2CID 9138613. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-03-16. Retrieved 2019-03-30.
  13. ^ Keogh, Rebecca; Bergmann, Johanna; Pearson, Joel (2020-05-05). "Cortical excitability controls the strength of mental imagery". eLife. 9: e50232. doi:10.7554/eLife.50232. ISSN 2050-084X. PMC 7200162. PMID 32369016.
  14. ^ Dawes AJ, Keogh R, Andrillon T, Pearson J (June 2020). "A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia". Scientific Reports. 10 (1): 10022. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-65705-7. PMC 7308278. PMID 32572039.
  15. ^ Wicken M, Keogh R, Pearson J (March 2021). "The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from fear-based imagery and aphantasia". Proceedings. Biological Sciences. 288 (1946): 20210267. doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.0267. PMC 7944105. PMID 33715433.
  16. ^ de Vito S, Bartolomeo P (January 2016). "Refusing to imagine? On the possibility of psychogenic aphantasia. A commentary on Zeman et al. (2015)". Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 74: 334–5. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.06.013. PMID 26195151. S2CID 40642476.
  17. ^ Zeman A, Dewar M, Della Sala S (January 2016). "Reflections on aphantasia". Cortex; A Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior. 74: 336–7. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.08.015. hdl:20.500.11820/b67449c9-1804-4a8f-95ee-c320928c7eeb. PMID 26383091. S2CID 206985920. Archived from the original on 2017-08-28.
  18. ^ Gallagher J (9 April 2019). "Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'". BBC News. Archived from the original on 9 April 2019. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  19. ^ "No Such Thing As A Jigsaw For The Queen". No Such Thing as a Fish. January 19, 2018.
  20. ^ "Warming Up | RichardHerring.com". February 8, 2020. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  21. ^ Lavelle D (April 10, 2019). "Aphantasia: why a Disney animator draws a blank on his own creations". The Guardian.
  22. ^ Lawrence M (April 1, 2020). "'I have no mind's eye': what is it like being an author with aphantasia?". The Guardian.
  23. ^ "Raven Strategem author Yoon Ha Lee on how his spaceships became bags of holding". SciFiNow. 2017-05-31. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  24. ^ Appleyard B (6 June 2018). "Derek Parfit's quest for perfection". NewStatesman. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  25. ^ MacFarquhar L (29 October 2011). "How To Be Good". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  26. ^ Cabral-Isabedra C (27 April 2016). "Mozilla Firefox Co-Creator Says He Can't Visualize Images: What You Need To Know About Aphantasia". Tech Times.
  27. ^ "Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind | Facebook". www.facebook.com.
  28. ^ Cabral-Isabedra C (27 April 2016). "Mozilla Firefox Co-Creator Says He Can't Visualize Images: What You Need To Know About Aphantasia". Tech Times. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  29. ^ Clemens A (1 August 2018). "When the Mind's Eye Is Blind". Scientific American. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  30. ^ "Aphantasia: when the mental image is missing". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. June 24, 2016.
  31. ^ "Seems like a lot of folks have questions about aphantasia (the inability to visualize mental images), which I’ve lived with all my life. I personally believe people don’t talk about the drastically different ways we all think often enough, so please, ask away below" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

Further reading[edit]

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