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Aphantasia is the suggested name for a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind's eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery.[1] The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880[2] but has since remained largely 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] which also coined the term aphantasia.[4] Research on the condition is scarce. Further studies are planned.[5][6]


In the original paper[3] by Professor 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 image 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 is categorized as aphantasia if they score a total of 20 or less across 16 questions.[7]

In the same paper, it was identified that aphantasia characterizes only voluntary visualizations; the aphantasiacs were still able to have involuntary visualizations (i.e. dreams).

Another study[8] posited that frontal engagement driving feedback connections activates sensory representations in the visual cortex; people with aphantasia could have a deficit with these feedback connections such that the visual cortex cannot be activated to produce an image.


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] However, 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] 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",[3] sparking a renewed interest in the phenomenon now known simply as aphantasia.[4]

In April 2016 Blake Ross, co-creator of Firefox, published an essay describing his own aphantasia and his realization that not everyone experiences it. The essay gained wide circulation on social media and in a variety of news sources.[12][13]

In December 2017 the book Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights was published by Alan Kendle with a foreword by Zeman. It contains a collection of insights from various contributors detailing their lives with aphantasia.[14]

In May 2018, in collaboration with Zeman, The Aphantasia Network was launched to create a community of people exploring life with Aphantasia, and share stories and strategies to learn more about its impacts. [15]

In April 2019 BBC News published a piece about ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull and his personal experience with aphantasia, and its surprising prevalence at the company.[16]

Research on the subject is still scarce, but further studies are being planned.[5][6]


  1. ^ Larner, A. J. (2016). A Dictionary of Neurological Signs. Springer. ISBN 978-3319298214. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  2. ^ a b Galton, Francis (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, 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. hdl:10871/17613. ISSN 0010-9452. PMID 26115582.
  4. ^ a b Gallagher, James (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. ^ a b Zimmer, Carl (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.
  6. ^ a b Grinnell, Dustin (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.
  7. ^ "VVIQ". aphantasia.com. 3 September 2019.
  8. ^ Keogh, Rebecca; Pearson, Joel (August 2018). "The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia" (PDF). Cortex. 105: 53–60. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012. PMID 29175093. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-03-16. Retrieved 2019-03-30 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  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, 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. PMID 19733188.
  12. ^ Cabral-Isabedra, Catherine (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.
  13. ^ Clemens, Anna (1 August 2018). "When the Mind's Eye Is Blind". Scientific American. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  14. ^ Kendle, Alan (2017). Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights. Bennion Kearny. ISBN 978-1911121428. Archived from the original on 14 March 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  15. ^ "The Aphantasia Network". aphantasia.com. 4 September 2017.
  16. ^ Gallagher, James (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.

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