Reading was how I found out about Aphantasia, I started getting bored of reading books whilst my brother didn’t. We spoke about it and he said he basically creates a movie in his mind. How I wish I could see that “movie” in my head when I’m reading. It sounds so exciting. I can still get engrossed in a book though.
A friend who knows I have this condition recently asked me about music and if I can visualize and “feel” it. The answer is no, I have a hard time remembering most music unless I’ve either heard it over 100 times or maybe it’s an easy jingle.
How Do We Recognise Aphantasia
How many times have you watched a movie or television adaptation of a book and been disappointed when a scene didn’t turn out the way you expected? Or maybe a character didn’t look like you thought they would?
When asked to conjure up an image of a familiar face, most people can picture it in their minds. To put it another way, it is a mental and visual experience that is similar to what we would see if the person in front of us was there.
However, it turns out that not everyone experiences this. When asked to create an image, some people will respond that they cannot “see” anything. Aphantasia was the name given to this new kind of human experience in 2015. It is estimated that between 2 and 5 percent of people will never be able to make any mental images.
Effects of Aphantasia
If you ask someone with aphantasia to picture a dog chasing a ball they are completely unable to do it. If you ask them to picture an imaginary animal (like a pink rhinoceros with purple spots) they cannot even begin to picture it. They also frequently have no inner monologue and describe their minds as silent.
According to our findings, individuals with aphantasia drew objects of the appropriate size and location, but they also provided fewer visual details like color and drew fewer objects than typical imagers.
Instead of drawing the object, some participants with aphantasia wrote down the words “bed” or “chair” to indicate what it was. This suggests that people with aphantasia may be using strategies other than visual memory, like verbal representations. Differences in artistic skill or drawing effort were not the cause of these variations in object and spatial detail.
Our findings suggested that individuals with aphantasia still possess intact spatial imagery abilities—the capacity to depict the size, location, and position of objects in relation to one another. Another of our studies that looked at how people with aphantasia did on a variety of imagery-related memory tasks confirmed this finding.
In these tests, we found that people who did not have the ability to create visual imagery performed as well as people who did. The classic mental rotation imagery task, in which people look at shapes to determine whether they are the same shape rotated or different shapes, also revealed performance similarities.
This performance suggests that you can complete these tasks without having to “see” with your mind. On the other hand, it has been documented that some people with aphantasia, but not all of them, are more likely to report difficulty recognizing faces and a poor autobiographical memory, which is the memory of life events and is thought to be heavily reliant on visual imagery.
Life With Aphantasia
Aphantasia sufferers also talk about other ways their experience is different. Not everyone with aphantasia experiences a complete loss of all senses’ imagery. While some people may be able to mentally hear a song, they may not be able to imagine any visual images that go along with it.
Similarly, research has demonstrated that some individuals with aphantasia may still report experiencing visual imagery in their dreams despite their inability to generate on-demand visual imagery. Some people assert that their dreams are non-visual, consisting of emotional or conceptual content.
These fascinating variations show some of the unseen differences between us. We do know that people with aphantasia lead full and productive lives, despite the fact that many people with the condition may not be aware of their unique perspective on the world. In point of fact, it has been demonstrated that individuals with aphantasia work in a variety of creative and scientific fields.
Many people engage in and experience a process that they engage in and experience without actively trying to because visual imagery is intrinsic to how they think, remember past events, and plan for the future. We do not yet comprehend the underlying reasons for this variation in imagery. However, as aphantasia demonstrated, many of our mental experiences are not universally experienced. There are, in fact, a number of intriguing variations among us that we are unaware of.
Why isn’t aphantasia more well known?
Everyone I’ve come across who has aphantasia came to the realization by reading an article, seeing a social media post, or chatting with someone about the mind’s eye. My friend, for instance, had no idea she was aphantasic. And if I hadn’t stumbled across that article in 2018 I might still be under the impression that my visual imagination is perfectly normal.
An estimated two to three percent of people have aphantasia, but because it’s still not a recognizable, everyday term it’s possible that people can go their whole lives without even learning it exists. So why isn’t a lack of visual imagination more well-known today?
Don’t Let Aphantasia Get You Down
If you’ve made it this far and are now wrapped up in the same mind-blowing emotional spiral I experienced, trust me, I get it.
Aphantasia can occasionally be a symptom of something that’s happened to the brain, but it shouldn’t be regarded as a medical condition or disorder, rather “a variant of normal human experience.” Though you may encounter some mental imagery-related FOMO, having aphantasia isn’t necessarily a bad thing.