Without imagination: how an American woman lives with aphantasia

The ability to visualize certain images affects important cognitive processes (mental processes necessary for rational cognition), including episodic and working memory, forecasting the future, and dreams. We will tell you how people with visualization impairments live.

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Aphantasia is the inability to compose visual images. This phenomenon has been little studied since it was described relatively recently — in 2015. Nevertheless, it is already known that 2-5% of people in the world are diagnosed with this disorder. People with aphantasia cannot mentally dream or imagine objects, or retrieve memories. Such patients are less likely to have vivid and colorful dreams.

“When I close my eyes, I literally can’t see anything.”

A patient from the United States anonymously told Medical News Today how she lives with aphantasia. She describes the disorder this way: “Imagine being taken for a walk while blindfolded. Imagine that someone next to you talks about your surroundings.” The patient added that she perceives the world around her “tactilely” but not visually. In other words, she does not form visual images.

“It’s interesting that when I write a book, I often start by drawing pictures. Only then do I add words and describe them.”

Earlier in the scientific journal Nature published a study that aimed to compare spatial memory, the memory of dreams, and the brightness of visual images among healthy people and ’aphantasians’. The latter did not remember any events well, could not imagine the proposed objects/phenomena (for example, what the dawn looks like), and could not “play”, “reproduce” the music they had just heard in their heads.


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