New research has found that people with the ability to visualize vividly have a stronger connection between their visual network and areas of the brain related to decision making. The study also sheds light on the differences in memory and personality between those with strong visual imagery and those who cannot keep an image in their mind.
The research, from the University of Exeter, published in Cerebral cortex communications, sheds new light on why about one to three percent of the population lacks the ability to visualize. This phenomenon was named “aphantasia” by Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter in 2015, Professor Zeman referred to people with highly developed visual imagery skills as “hyperphantasy”.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the study is the first systematic neuropsychological and brain imaging study of people with aphantasia and hypephantasia. The team performed fMRI scans on 24 people with aphantasia, 25 with hyperphantasia and a control group of 20 people with average imaging alertness. They combined the imaging data with detailed cognitive and personality tests.
The scans revealed that people with hyperphantasy have a stronger connection between the visual network that processes what we see, and which becomes active during visual imagery, and the prefrontal cortices, involved in decision making and decision making. attention. These stronger connections were apparent in analyzes done while at rest, as participants relaxed – and perhaps wandered the mind.
Despite scores equivalent to standard memory tests, Professor Zeman and his team found that people with hyperphantasy produce richer descriptions of imagined scenarios than witnesses, which in turn outperform aphantasies. This also applied to autobiographical memory, or the ability to remember events that have taken place in a person’s life. The Aphantasics also had an inferior ability to recognize faces.
Personality tests revealed that aphantasies tended to be more introverted and hyperphantasies more open.
Professor Zeman said: “Our research indicates for the first time that a weaker connection between the parts of the brain responsible for vision and the frontal regions involved in decision making and attention leads to aphantasy. However, this should not be seen as a disadvantage. – it’s a different way of experiencing the world. Many aphantasies perform extremely well, and we are now keen to explore whether the differences in personality and memory that we have observed indicate contrasting ways of processing information, related to visual imagery ability. “
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