If You Can’t Count Sheep, It Could Be Aphantasia

Many take for granted the ability to visualize images, such as counting sheep to fall asleep. What if you were unable to visualize memories of your loved ones or an end product in a career like architecture or design? It’s a condition known as aphantasia, which was first identified by Sir Francis Galton in 1880 and is currently being researched by Professor Adam Zeman, at the University of Exeter Medical School. After Dr. Zeman’s research was described in an article in Discover magazine, Dr. Zeman was contacted by 21 individuals who recognized that they too experienced aphantasia. One of the aphantasia patients cannot conjure up any sound, texture, taste, smell, emotion, or other type of imagery; for another patient, after his mother died he was able to remember factually the events in which they were together but not an image of these past times.

It is believed that aphantasia may be due to a disruption in several areas of the frontal and parietal lobes that “organize” the process of visualization, along with temporal and occipital lobes that give visualization its “visual” feel. Aphantasia has previously been described in patients following major brain damage and in the context of mood disorder. Dr. Zeman and his team are currently conducting further studies to learn more about this poor or diminished visual imagery ability.