People living their entire lives without mental images
When you visualize pictures inside your head, you can see them through your “mind’s eye”. Most people can do that with no problem, while it is very easy to recall things from the past or simply imagine different situations or faces through mental visualization. Our memories are often linked to picturing images in our heads.
But it seems that not everybody can do that. Earlier this year, scientist have described “aphantasia” or having a blind mind’s eye. People with aphantasia don’t have the ability to visualize mental images.
Niel Kenmuir, from Lancaster, has always been different. He has always had a blind mind’s eye. “My stepfather, when I couldn’t sleep, told me to count sheep, and he explained what he meant, I tried to do it and I couldn’t. I couldn’t see any sheep jumping over fences, there was nothing to count”, Neil says.
Like other people who he shares his condition with, he can’t remember or recognize faces and he has a very bad visual memory, but he is very good at remembering facts. You can watch his story here.
People like Neil experience life in a very different way. Their inability to picture things can cause a lot of frustration for others surrounding them and also for themselves, due to the loneliness feeling that is often experienced on an every-day basis.
At the opposite pole, there are the “super-visualizers”, people who have a highly vivid imagination, capable of easily imagine very strong and vibrant images in their heads. This is called “hyperphantasia” and is the other extreme form of visualization.
Professor Adam Zeman, a specialist of cognitive and behavioral neurology of University of Exeter, and his team, study people affected by aphantasia and its very opposite – hyperphantasia. “People who have contacted us say they are really delighted that this has been recognized and has been given a name, because they have been trying to explain to people for years that there is this oddity that they find hard to convey to others”, Professor Zeman declared for BBC. “I think it makes quite an important difference to their experience of life because many of us spend our lives with imagery hovering somewhere in the mind’s eye which we inspect from time to time, it’s a variability of human experience”, he adds.
Until now, psychologists used Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire to rate the strength of one’s mind’s eye. The scientists from the University of Exeter have created another version of the test to see visualization levels of your mind.