Can you create mental images?

Can you create mental images?

Picture this: You are on a beach watching the sun slip into the ocean as it sets. The sky, once filled with an orange hue, has darkened.

A crisp image might have just popped into your head. But if you have aphantasia, you can’t form this mental image.

Aphantasia impacts 2-4% of people – most of which don’t know that others have this ability. It has varying degrees. Some people see absolutely nothing when trying to form a mental image while others may see a faint image.

The brain’s frontal, parietal, temporal and visual cortex all play a role in producing this mental imagery.

“The inability to imagine a picture in your mind may be present since childhood or develop with a stroke or severe brain trauma,” explains Dr. Lara Ries, a neurologist at Aurora Health Care. “Interestingly, patients with aphantasia can have difficulty recognizing faces, known as prosopagnosia, or remembering events from their lives. In addition, these patients use more locations in the brain when thinking of an image.”

Aphantasia is described as an experience and not medically considered a health condition or disability.

“If you’re curious about whether you may have aphantasia, one way to determine this would be to take the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ),” says Dr. Ries. “Many people with aphantasia live normal lives. However, if you suddenly develop it, please seek medical care immediately.”

More research is being conducted on the genetic component of aphantasia – including whether it’s hereditary and if there is a possible connection with neurodiversity.

It’s important to note that this experience doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. In fact, many successful Disney and Pixar animators have had aphantasia.

Want to learn more about your risk for stroke? Take a free online quiz.

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About the Author

Anna Kohler
Anna Kohler

Anna Kohler, health enews contributor, is an external communications specialist for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She received her bachelor's degree in public relations from Illinois State University and has worked in health care public relations and content marketing for over five years. In her free time, she enjoys working out, exploring new places with her friends and family, and keeping up with the latest social media trends.