Afantasia study links ‘blind mind’ condition to other cognitive problems

Afantasia, the term that refers to a rare condition in which one cannot visualize things in his or her mind, has been linked to broader cognitive problems, including problems with dreams and memory. The research comes from the University of New South Wales and was recently published in Scientific reports. More than 250 people participated in the study.

Most people are able to visualize things in their mind; this is even known as the ‘mind’s eye’, highlighting the visual aspects of these images. In recent years, however, it has become popularly known that up to 5 percent of people lack this ability and cannot visualize things in their minds, but simply see nothing at all.

This lack of internal visualization is popularly known as aphantasia, the subject of the new study. The researchers surveyed more than 250 people who report having this condition and found that these people are also more likely to experience other cognitive problems, including trouble remembering the past and imagining the future.

The study found that people with aphantasia may also be more likely to have trouble dreaming. UNSW School of Psychology Ph.D. Candidate Alexei Dawes explained: “Our data revealed an extended cognitive ‘fingerprint’ of aphantasia characterized by changes in images, memory and dreams.”

Furthermore, this is the first study that has identified multiple aphantasia ‘subtypes’, including some who can still imagine things unrelated to visual imagery, including the ability to perceive the sound and feel of things. Furthermore, the researchers noted that the fantasies have almost the same spatial imaging capabilities as the control group.

Overall, the condition remains poorly understood and there are only about 10 studies on the subject at this time.