Can’t Form Mental Images In Your Mind? It Could Be Aphantasia

Last Update on September 30, 2022 : Published on October 1, 2022
Aphantasia

Imagine a sunny day, visualize the warm rays of the sun glinting in the swimming pool, and imagine the laughter while trying to recall the faces doing the laughing, can you? Can you visualize the image I’ve asked you to? If you can’t imagine this or any other experience in your mind’s eye, then this could be Aphantasia.

Aphantasia is a medical condition that can make you unable to visualize any image in your mind’s eye. This inability to form mental images in your mind can also be called “mental blindness” and can be a rare condition. It is believed that only 1-3% of the population has Aphantasia.

While it might not sound severe, this rare condition can leave you blind to past events and experiences, causing you to feel frustrated and anxious in social situations. I mean, imagine not being able to recall the most memorable day of your life – won’t it be frustrating?

It’s common for us to visualize people’s faces, images, objects, or even events. Think about your wedding day, for instance; you might immediately imagine your partner’s happy face and all your loved ones that came to celebrate in your mind. People living with Aphantasia can’t draw these mental images that you can.

In this blog, we’ll be discovering what Aphantasia is, the signs, how it affects your life, and what it feels like to live with this rare mental blindness.

Aphantasia: What It Looks Like

You can trace back the inability to form mental images to the medical literature of Francis Galton back in 1880. This mind blindness was first mentioned by Galton but it wasn’t until recently, 2015 to be precise, that this mind-blindness was labeled as “Aphantasia” by Adam Zeman.

FunFact! Adam Zeman coined the phrase, “Aphantasia,” from the Greek word, “Phantasia” meaning imagination.

Scientists have categorized this condition into two types: Acquired and Congenital Aphantasia. Acquired Aphantasia can occur after a traumatic brain injury or after severe depression or psychosis. Congenital Aphantasia is the one you are born with.

If you’re asking yourself, “Do I have Aphantasia” or if you think you have Aphantasia, then consider the following questions and carefully answer them:

  • Think of a person and try to imagine their face in your mind. Can you clearly see their features, face, and hair color, face shape, etc.?
  • Can you clearly picture the movements and gestures they like to make?
  • Can you visualize the clothes they’re wearing?

If you can’t imagine the above scenario, then you might have Aphantasia. It is recommended that you speak to a doctor or seek medical advice, immediately.

What Does Research Say?

Comprehensive research on Aphantasia was first drawn in the 1880s by Galton but as medical sciences advance, the more we seem to draw from the studies.

In 2005, a 65-year-old man had undergone minor surgery under the neurologist, Adam Zemen. The man later complained that he couldn’t draw any visuals in his mind, which led Zemen to search for the condition more.

Researchers have debated how this inability to visualize plays a role in memory and planning functions of the brain. While the man described that he couldn’t visualize any images, his other functions, including perception, visual memory, etc. were normal.

In a 2020 study, the differences between Aphantasia and Hyperaphantasia were looked at. Hyperaphantasia is the opposite of Aphantasia which involves recalling and visualizing very vivid mental images.

People with Aphantasia reported troubles with autobiographical memory, and facial recognition, and were more likely to work in the field of mathematics and science whereas people with Hyperaphantasia were more likely to work in creative professions.

In another study, it was found that people with Aphantasia had reduced imagery in other sensory functions and experienced less vivid or visual dreams.

The Impact Of Aphantasia

If we talk about the psychological implications of Aphantasia, then there can be many challenges that one can face. For example, the inability to draw visual features of a person or events can make you feel frustrated and anxious in social situations.

Being unable to recall memorable moments can also feel disheartening and even a small task of counting sheep to quickly fall asleep can be challenging. However, in an article, it was noted that people living with Aphantasia can experience images in their dreams even though those images might not be vivid or frequent. Interesting, isn’t it?

In any case, the observation made in the paper said that while intentionally recalling imagery can be difficult, unintentional recalling ability “remained mostly intact”.

In another study, the link between Aphantasia and Autism was studied. People living with Aphantasia showed higher traits of autism and related neurological disorders as both – Aphantasia and Autism – can be characterized by impaired imagination and poor social skills. While it’s not exactly a mental health illness, it can be a sign of poor cognitive processing and experience.

When we talk about Aphantasia causes, some researchers might point to psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders as factors. Although, there is still a need for more studies to understand the link between Aphantasia and mental health disorders.

The Link Between Aphantasia And Memory

When I ask you to recall a memory, you might imagine an event or an experience like playing a movie. You might also remember specific images that stand out. However, people with Aphantasia might only recall memories that are more like listing facts.

For instance, someone living with Aphantasia might remember their wedding day, the people who came, the weather, and the food served but they might not recall or form a mental image of the memory. They might not even recognize the faces of the people who came and what the wedding venue looked like.

It is also believed that the lack of mental memory might have a slight advantage. Because this Aphantasia can cause the inability to form mental images, it can prevent you from being troubled by intrusive images, vivid nightmares, and even flashbacks. However, it might not protect you from developing other symptoms of trauma.

Curing Aphantasia: Is It Possible?

There are not a lot of studies when it comes to understanding Aphantasia but with what is known, there is one answer to the question: No. There’s no cure for Aphantasia yet. This condition, as described by Adam Zemen is, “a fascinating variation in human experience.”

It is unknown if people living with Aphantasia can improve their visual abilities and mental imagery. However, in a 2017 case, it was found that a man living with this rare condition was able to visualize more after 18 weekly vision therapy sessions.

Some of the techniques could include:

  • Memory card game
  • Pattern blocking memory activities
  • Describing objects and outdoor scenes
  • Afterimage techniques
  • Picture recognition activities

Not being able to recall images in your mind can be distressing and upsetting. Even though the studies on the condition might draw some attention, it does not necessarily risk your success in life. Anyone can have this condition yet find success in every walk of life.

Bottom Line

It’s imperative to understand that this rare condition, while rare, can be a normal part of human life and experience. There’s no cure or treatment for Aphantasia but it does not mean that it requires a cure. With memory exercises and activities to enhance visual recognition, you can cope with the condition.

Aphantasia can also impact different aspects of your life as mental imagery can play a big role in learning and social skills so not being able to recall or visualize events, memories, and people can make some aspects of your life challenging.

While the research on Aphantasia is quite limited, it does not mean that there is nothing to learn. As Adam Zemen describes, let’s consider Aphantasia a fascinating human experience rather than a medical illness or disorder.

I hope this article helped you understand what is Aphantasia, its causes, and what this condition looks like. For more, you can write to us at info@calmsage.com or DM us on social media.

You can also share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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