Aphantasia is the condition of having no ‘mind’s eye’, including no ability to visualise.
While people vary in how good they are visualising, some people cannot do it at all.
In fact, those with aphantasia are unable to mentally summon up sounds, tastes, textures or emotions in their minds.
Aphantasia may affect around 2.5% of people.
Some have the condition from birth, while others acquire it from brain damage of one kind or another.
Tom Ebeyer, 25, from Ontario, Canada, who has aphantasia, didn’t discover he lacked a common mental ability until the age of 21:
“It had a serious emotional impact.
I began to feel isolated — unable to do something so central to the average human experience.
The ability to recall memories and experiences, the smell of flowers or the sound of a loved one’s voice; before I discovered that recalling these things was humanly possible, I wasn’t even aware of what I was missing out on.
The realisation did help me to understand why I am a slow at reading text, and why I perform poorly on memorisation tests, despite my best efforts.”
All of Mr Ebeyer’s senses are affected.
He can’t summon up any smell, emotion, sound, texture or taste.
Mr Ebeyer said:
“After the passing of my mother, I was extremely distraught in that I could not reminisce on the memories we had together.
I can remember factually the things we did together, but never an image.
After seven years, I hardly remember her.
To have the condition researched and defined brings me great pleasure.
Not only do I now have an official title to refer to the condition while discussing it with my peers, but the knowledge that professionals are recognising its reality gives me hope that further understanding is still to come.”
Professor Adam Zeman, the study’s first author, said:
“This intriguing variation in human experience has received little attention.
Our participants mostly have some first-hand knowledge of imagery through their dreams: our study revealed an interesting dissociation between voluntary imagery, which is absent or much reduced in these individuals, and involuntary imagery, for example in dreams, which is usually preserved.”
The research was published in the journal Cortex (Zeman et al., 2015).
Thinking image from Shutterstock