Aphantasia: An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Blind Imagination


  • Adrian Lüssing University of Vienna



Is Visual Imagination Necessary for Cognition? Many scientific debates gather around the question whether visual imagination is necessary for cognition or not. However, the recent scientific research on the cognitive phenomenon aphantasia, in which subjects report no visual imagination, supports my research hypothesis that visual imagination is not necessary for cognition. Since 3–4 % are globally affected, it seems to be no disorder, also, due to maintained (or even enhanced) cognitive performance.

Theoretical Background: A Psychology and Neuroscience of Aphantasia

Psychological research revealed that aphants do have impoverished autobiographical and episodic memory [1]. Here, 26.22% report a multi-sensory imageryreduction.Theirrecallingofobjects is negatively affected while, on the contrary, their spatial memory of objects is slightly better, as well as their ability to concentrate. For not relying on introspection only, further studies show that aphant’s pupillary response does not differentiate between imagining a bright or dark triangle. Four triangles increased pupillary response, but equally in both conditions.

Moreover, a skin conductance test showed that fearful propositional input did not produce any stress response. This was strengthened by a binocular rivalry test in which aphant’s perception was not primed by visual imagination tasks. Lastly, aphants were also more likely to be protected from pseudohallucinations in flicker experiments.

This encouraged scientists to find neural correlates through fMRI tests, which can be categorized as follows:

(1) There is some evidence that aphants have a bigger surface area of their visual cortex V1.
(2) Aphants activate more diverse brain regions [2].

(3) They activate some regions more (e.g., auditory cortex, or frontal regions) while others are more silent (e.g., fusiform gyrus, or precuneus) [2].

(4) Lastly, there is some evidence that hyperphantasics have a higher connectivity between visual and frontal regions, which could be blocked in aphants.

Outlook: Aphantasia and Society

Especially from aphantasic artists we can learn a lot about non-visual strategies like proprioceptive, labelling, or extended strategies. This supports the extended cognition hypothesis, as well as predictive processing since they use interactively the environment and can minimize prediction errors in specific situations. What this can mean for education, innovation, and society, will be part of the discussion in my master thesis.


[1] A. J. Dawes, R. Keogh, T. Andrillon, & J. Pearson, “A cognitive profile of multi- sensory imagery, memory and dreaming in aphantasia,” Scientific Reports, vol. 10, no. 1:10022, pp. 1–10, 2020.

[2] J. Fulford, F. Milton, D. Salas, et al., “The neural correlates of visual imagery vividness - An fMRI study and literature review,” Cortex, vol. 105, pp. 26–40, 2018.