Aphantasia study links 'blind mind' condition to other cognitive issues

Aphantasia, the term that refers to a rare condition in which one is not able to visualize things in their mind, has been linked to wider cognitive issues, including troubles with dreaming 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 referred to as the 'mind's eye,' highlighting the visual aspects of this imagery. In recent years, however, it has become popularly known that up to 5-percent of people lack this ability and are not able to visualize things in their mind, instead simply seeing nothing at all.

This lack of internal visualization is popularly known as aphantasia, the subject of the new study. Researchers surveyed more than 250 people who report suffering from this condition and found that these people are also more likely to suffer from other cognitive issues, including trouble remembering the past and imaging the future.

The study found that people who suffer from aphantasia may also be more likely to have issues with dreaming. UNSW School of Psychology Ph.D. candidate Alexei Dawes explained, "Our data revealed an extended cognitive 'fingerprint' of aphantasia characterized by changes to imagery, memory, and dreaming."

As well, this is the first study that has identified multiple 'subtypes' of aphantasia, including some aphantasics who could still imagine things not related to visual imagery, including being able to perceive the sound and feel of things. As well, the researchers noted that aphantasics have nearly the same spatial imagery capabilities as the control group.

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