STUDY: Aphantasia: the Inability to Picture Something in Your Head

A newly-discovered condition called aphantasia precludes individuals from seeing images in their mind.

The reason why some individuals are unable to picture things is unclear, but it may be because of differences in brain functioning.

“When you try to imagine a picture, you are trying to recreate the same pattern of response in your brain as when you saw the image,” said Keogh. “We think that [people with aphantasia] are not able to create the same pattern response in their brains.”

How does aphantasia affect people? Keogh says it does not seem to inhibit people’s success in life. However, it can make recognizing faces, special navigation and recalling memories more difficult. “When we try to remember things from our past, most of us will find that it’s like playing a movie in our mind, we can just relive that moment. For them, it’s more like a list of things that have occurred.” 

There may even be some benefits to aphantasia. It can protect individuals from experiencing too much visual imagery, such as in individuals experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the future, Keogh hopes there might be methods to improve the way brains of people with aphantasia function—either through brain training or electrical stimulation. But for now, more research needs to be done to better understand the condition.

Do you think you may be one? Try taking this abridged test, and see how you score.

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