Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-gvrqt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-04T13:18:42.833Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

12 - The Visual Imagination

from Part II - Imagery-Based Forms of the Imagination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 May 2020

Anna Abraham
University of Georgia
Get access


Visual imagery can be advantageous in much of cognition, unnecessary (aphantasia), to clinically disruptive (PTSD). It allows us to disconnect our senses from reality and test out virtual combinations of sensory experience. With many methodological constraints now overcome, research has shown that visual imagery involves a network of brain areas from frontal cortex to sensory areas and it can function much like a weak version of afferent perception. Imagery vividness and strength range from completely absent (aphantasia) to photo-like (hyperphantasia). Both the anatomy and function of the primary visual cortex are related to visual imagery. The use of imagery as a tool has been linked to a many superordinate compound cognitive processes. Imagery plays both symptomatic and mechanistic roles in neurological and mental disorders, and some of their treatments. Although many unanswered questions remain, we now have multiple objective methods to investigate imagery, and hence shed light not just on imagery, but on the many reliant cognitive processes

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albright, T. D. (2012). On the Perception of Probable Things: Neural Substrates of Associative Memory, Imagery, and Perception. Neuron, 74(2), 227245.Google Scholar
Allport, G. W. (1924). Eidetic Imagery. British Journal of Psychology, 15, 99120.Google Scholar
Bergmann, J., Genc, E., Kohler, A., Singer, W., and Pearson, J. (2016). Smaller Primary Visual Cortex Is Associated with Stronger, but Less Precise Mental Imagery. Cerebral Cortex, 26(9), 38383850.Google Scholar
Brascamp, J. W., Knapen, T. H. J., Kanai, R., van Ee, R., and van den Berg, A. V. (2007). Flash Suppression and Flash Facilitation in Binocular Rivalry. Journal of Vision, 7(12), 1212.Google Scholar
Carrasco, M., Ling, S., and Read, S. (2004). Attention Alters Appearance. Nature Neuroscience, 7(3), 308313.Google Scholar
Chang, S., and Pearson, J. (2018). The Functional Effects of Prior Motion Imagery and Motion Perception. Cortex, 105, 8396.Google Scholar
Chiou, R., Rich, A. N., Rogers, S., and Pearson, J. (2018). Exploring the Functional Nature of Synaesthetic Colour – Dissociations from Colour Perception and Imagery. Cognition, 177, 107121.Google Scholar
Egeth, H. E., and Yantis, S. (1997). Visual Attention: Control, Representation, and Time Course. Annual Review of Psychology, 48(1), 269297.Google Scholar
Galton, F. (1880). I.—Statistics of Mental Imagery. Mind, 19, 301318.Google Scholar
Goebel, R., Khorram-Sefat, D., Muckli, L., Hacker, H., and Singer, W. (1998). The Constructive Nature of Vision: Direct Evidence from Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Studies of Apparent Motion and Motion Imagery. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 10(5), 15631573.Google Scholar
Gray, C. R., and Gummerman, K. (1975). The Enigmatic Eidetic Image: A Critical Examination of Methods, Data, and Theories. Psychological Bulletin, 82(3), 383407.Google Scholar
Haber, R. N. (1979). Twenty Years of Haunting Eidetic Imagery: Where’s the Ghost? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2(4), 583594.Google Scholar
Ishai, A., and Sagi, D. (1995). Common Mechanisms of Visual Imagery and Perception. Science, 268(5218), 17721774.Google Scholar
Ishai, A., Ungerleider, L. G., and Haxby, J. V. (2000). Distributed Neural Systems for the Generation of Visual Images. Neuron, 28(3), 979990.Google Scholar
Jacobs, C., Schwarzkopf, D. S., and Silvanto, J. (2018). Visual Working Memory Performance in Aphantasia. Cortex, 105, 6173.Google Scholar
Keogh, R., and Pearson, J. (2011). Mental Imagery and Visual Working Memory. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e29221.Google Scholar
Keogh, R., and Pearson, J. (2014). The Sensory Strength of Voluntary Visual Imagery Predicts Visual Working Memory Capacity. Journal of Vision, 14(12), 77.Google Scholar
Keogh, R., and Pearson, J. (2018). The Blind Mind: No Sensory Visual Imagery in Aphantasia. Cortex, 105, 5360.Google Scholar
Koenig-Robert, R., and Pearson, J. (2019). Decoding the Contents and Strength of Imagery before Volitional Engagement. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 3504.Google Scholar
Kosslyn, S. M. (1973). Scanning Visual Images: Some Structural Implications. Perception & Psychophysics, 14(1), 9094.Google Scholar
Kosslyn, S. M. (2005). Mental Images and the Brain. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22(3), 333347.Google Scholar
Laeng, B., and Sulutvedt, U. (2014). The Eye Pupil Adjusts to Imaginary Light. Psychological Science: a Journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 25(1), 188197.Google Scholar
Lewis, D. E., O’Reilly, M. J., Khuu, S. K., and Pearson, J. (2013). Conditioning the Mind’s Eye: Associative Learning with Voluntary Mental Imagery. Clinical Psychological Science, 1(4), 390400.Google Scholar
Maróthi, R., and Kéri, S. (2018). Enhanced Mental Imagery and Intact Perceptual Organization in Schizotypal Personality Disorder. Psychiatry Research, 259, 433438.Google Scholar
Meng, M., Remus, D. A., and Tong, F. (2005). Filling-in of Visual Phantoms in the Human Brain. Nature Neuroscience, 8(9), 12481254.Google Scholar
Mohr, H. M., Linder, N. S., Dennis, H., and Sireteanu, R. (2011). Orientation-Specific Aftereffects to Mentally Generated Lines. Perception, 40(3), 272290.Google Scholar
Morina, N., Leibold, E., and Ehring, T. (2013). Vividness of General Mental Imagery Is Associated with the Occurrence of Intrusive Memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 44(2), 221226.Google Scholar
Morris, T., Spittle, M., and Watt, A. P. (2005). Imagery in Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Books.Google Scholar
Naselaris, T., Olman, C. A., Stansbury, D. E., Ugurbil, K., and Gallant, J. L. (2015). A Voxel-Wise Encoding Model for Early Visual Areas Decodes Mental Images of Remembered Scenes. NeuroImage, 105, 215228.Google Scholar
Pearson, J. (2014). New Directions in Mental-Imagery Research: The Binocular-Rivalry Technique and Decoding fMRI Patterns. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(3), 178183.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., Clifford, C. W. G., and Tong, F. (2008). The Functional Impact of Mental Imagery on Conscious Perception. Current Biology: CB, 18(13), 982986.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., and Keogh, R. (2019). Redefining Visual Working Memory: A Cognitive-Strategy, Brain-Region Approach. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(3), 266273.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., and Kosslyn, S. M. (2015). The Heterogeneity of Mental Representation: Ending the Imagery Debate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(33), 1008910092.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., Naselaris, T., Holmes, E. A., and Kosslyn, S. M. (2015). Mental Imagery: Functional Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 590602.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., Rademaker, R. L., and Tong, F. (2011). Evaluating the Mind’s Eye: The Metacognition of Visual Imagery. Psychological Science, 22(12), 15351542.Google Scholar
Pearson, J., and Westbrook, F. (2015). Phantom Perception: Voluntary and Involuntary Non-Retinal Vision. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(5), 278284.Google Scholar
Perky, C. W. (1910). An Experimental Study of Imagination. The American Journal of Psychology, 21(3), 422452.Google Scholar
Pylyshyn, Z. (2001). Is the Imagery Debate Over? If So, What Was It About? In Depoux, E (ed.), Language, Brain, and Cognitive Development: Essays in Honor of Jacques Mehler. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 5983.Google Scholar
Ranganath, C., and D’Esposito, M. (2005). Directing the Mind’s Eye: Prefrontal, Inferior and Medial Temporal Mechanisms for Visual Working Memory. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(2), 175182.Google Scholar
Sasaki, Y., and Watanabe, T. (2004). The Primary Visual Cortex Fills in Color. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(52), 1825118256.Google Scholar
Schlack, A., and Albright, T. D. (2007). Remembering Visual Motion: Neural Correlates of Associative Plasticity and Motion Recall in Cortical Area MT. Neuron, 53(6), 881890.Google Scholar
Schlegel, A., Kohler, P. J., Fogelson, S. V., et al. (2013). Network Structure and Dynamics of the Mental Workspace. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(40), 1627716282.Google Scholar
Shepard, R. N., and Metzler, J. (1971). Mental Rotation of Three-Dimensional Objects. Science, 171(3972), 701703.Google Scholar
Shine, J. M., Keogh, R., O’Callaghan, C., et al. (2014). Imagine That: Elevated Sensory Strength of Mental Imagery in Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease and Visual Hallucinations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1798), 20142047.Google Scholar
Slotnick, S. D., Thompson, W. L., and Kosslyn, S. M. (2005). Visual Mental Imagery Induces Retinotopically Organized Activation of Early Visual Areas. Cerebral Cortex, 15(10), 15701583.Google Scholar
Stokes, M., Thompson, R., Cusack, R., and Duncan, J. (2009). Top-Down Activation of Shape-Specific Population Codes in Visual Cortex During Mental Imagery. Journal of Neuroscience, 29(5), 15651572.Google Scholar
Stromeyer, C. F., and Psotka, J. (1970). The Detailed Texture of Eidetic Images. Nature, 225(5230), 346349.Google Scholar
Tanaka, Y., and Sagi, D. (1998). A Perceptual Memory for Low-Contrast Visual Signals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95(21), 1272912733.Google Scholar
Tartaglia, E. M., Bamert, L., Mast, F. W., and Herzog, M. H. (2009). Human Perceptual Learning by Mental Imagery. Current Biology: CB, 19(24), 20812085.Google Scholar
Thirion, B., Duchesnay, E., Hubbard, E., et al. (2006). Inverse Retinotopy: Inferring the Visual Content of Images from Brain Activation Patterns. NeuroImage, 33(4), 11041116.Google Scholar
Yomogida, Y. (2004). Mental Visual Synthesis Is Originated in the Fronto-temporal Network of the Left Hemisphere. Cerebral Cortex, 14(12), 13761383.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats