The neural correlates of visual imagery: a co-ordinate-based meta-analysis

Cortex 105 (August 2018):4-25 (2018)
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Visual imagery is a form of sensory imagination, involving subjective experiences typically described as similar to perception, but which occur in the absence of corresponding external stimuli. We used the Activation Likelihood Estimation algorithm (ALE) to identify regions consistently activated by visual imagery across 40 neuroimaging studies, the first such meta-analysis. We also employed a recently developed multi-modal parcellation of the human brain to attribute stereotactic co-ordinates to one of 180 anatomical regions, the first time this approach has been combined with the ALE algorithm. We identified a total 634 foci, based on measurements from 464 participants. Our overall comparison identified activation in the superior parietal lobule, particularly in the left hemisphere, consistent with the proposed ‘top-down’ role for this brain region in imagery. Inferior premotor areas and the inferior frontal sulcus were reliably activated, a finding consistent with the prominent semantic demands made by many visual imagery tasks. We observed bilateral activation in several areas associated with the integration of eye movements and visual information, including the supplementary and cingulate eye fields (SCEFs) and the frontal eye fields (FEFs), suggesting that enactive processes are important in visual imagery. V1 was typically activated during visual imagery, even when participants have their eyes closed, consistent with influential depictive theories of visual imagery. Temporal lobe activation was restricted to area PH and regions of the fusiform gyrus, adjacent to the fusiform face complex (FFC). These results provide a secure foundation for future work to characterise in greater detail the functional contributions of specific areas to visual imagery.

Author Profiles

Crawford Winlove
University of Exeter
Fiona Macpherson
University of Glasgow


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