Aphantasia and involuntary imagery

Consciousness and Cognition 120 (C):103679 (2024)
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Abstract

Aphantasia is a condition that is often characterized as the impaired ability to create voluntary mental images. Aphantasia is assumed to selectively affect voluntary imagery mainly because even though aphantasics report being unable to visualize something at will, many report having visual dreams. We argue that this common characterization of aphantasia is incorrect. Studies on aphantasia are often not clear about whether they are assessing voluntary or involuntary imagery, but some studies show that several forms of involuntary imagery are also affected in aphantasia (including imagery in dreams). We also raise problems for two attempts to show that involuntary images are preserved in aphantasia. In addition, we report the results of a study about afterimages in aphantasia, which suggest that these tend to be less intense in aphantasics than in controls. Involuntary imagery is often treated as a unitary kind that is either present or absent in aphantasia. We suggest that this approach is mistaken and that we should look at different types of involuntary imagery case by case. Doing so reveals no evidence of preserved involuntary imagery in aphantasia. We suggest that a broader characterization of aphantasia, as a deficit in forming mental imagery, whether voluntary or not, is more appropriate. Characterizing aphantasia as a volitional deficit is likely to lead researchers to give incorrect explanations for aphantasia, and to look for the wrong mechanisms underlying it.

Author's Profile

Raquel Krempel
Federal University of ABC, Brazil

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