Silhouette of a man looking out the window
Silhouette of a man looking out the window

Understanding aphantasia

Exploring language in minds without imagery
1 September 2022 until 30 September 2023
Project member(s)
Dr Speed, L.J. (Laura) , Dr Ken McRae (Western University)
Project type

Visual imagery is considered crucial to many thinking processes including remembering the past, imagining the future, and understanding language. However, new research has discovered a unique group of individuals that do not consciously experience visual imagery. This condition has recently been named aphantasia (Zeman et al., 2015). Although research into aphantasia is growing, a lot remains unknown about this condition. The main goals of this research are:

  1. To increase understanding of aphantasia
  2. To understand what role visual imagery plays in language processing

The little research that exists on aphantasia to date has mainly focused on corresponding deficits in memory, for example, difficulty retrieving autobiographical memories (Zeman et al., 2020). Yet, many theories of language processing propose a key role for visual information in understanding language, which suggests language comprehension may be fundamentally different in individuals with aphantasia. Language comprehenders are thought to compose visual simulations when they understand language, internally visualizing features such as the colour and shape of entities being described. This raises the question of whether individuals with aphantasia are impaired in comprehending language describing visually strong events. We will run a set of experiments comparing the comprehension of sentences in individuals with aphantasia and a group of matched control participants.

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Radboud-Western Collaboration Fund

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