Imagine a friend’s face. How much detail do you see? Do you see the color of their hair? What about the curve of their smile? For many people, this mental image will be relatively vivid. A somewhat watered down picture, sure, but still a picture—still something similar to what they would see if that friend were sitting across from them. For other folks, though, there’s no image there at all. There’s just no way to will it into being. Such people have what is now known as “aphantasia”—the inability to generate visual imagery.
Today I talk with Dr. Rebecca Keogh, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Dr. Keogh is one of the leading researchers in the new, fast-evolving study of aphantasia. We talk about the work she and her colleagues are doing to explore the full spectrum of individual differences in visual imagery ability, how these differences arise in the brain, and how they impact different aspects of everyday life, from how we dream, to how we envision the future, to how we respond to trauma. We also talk about folks on the other end of the spectrum—those with so-called “hyperphantasia,” who experience visual images in extraordinary detail. And we get a sneak preview of some of the questions that Rebecca and her colleagues are taking on next.
This episode takes us, for the first time on Many Minds, into the fascinating terrain of individual differences—into questions about how other human minds may differ from our own, often in ways that invisible and unexpected. This is terrain we definitely plan to revisit in future episodes. Had a blast with this one folks—hope you enjoy it, too!