Aphantasia is a mental condition characterized by an inability to voluntarily visualize mental imagery.[1] Many people with aphantasia also report an inability to recall sounds, smells, or sensations of touch. Some also report prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces.[2]

The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880[3] but has since remained relatively unstudied. Interest in the phenomenon renewed after the publication of a study in 2015 conducted by a team led by Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter,[4] which also coined the term aphantasia.[5] Research on the condition is still scarce.[6][7]

The term "aphantasia" is derived from the Greek word "phantasia", which translates to "imagination", and the prefix "a-", which means "without".[8]


The phenomenon was first described by Francis Galton in 1880 in a statistical study about mental imagery,[3] describing it as a common phenomenon among his peers.[9] However, it remained largely unstudied until 2015, when Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter was approached by MX, a man who seemed to have lost the ability to visualize after undergoing minor surgery.[10] Following the publication of MX's case in 2010,[11] Zeman was approached by a number of people reporting a lifelong inability to visualise. In 2015, Zeman's team published a paper on what they termed "congenital aphantasia",[4] sparking a renewed interest in the phenomenon now known simply as aphantasia.[5]

In April 2016 Blake Ross, co-creator of Firefox, published an essay describing his own aphantasia and his realization that not everyone experiences it.[12] The essay gained wide circulation on social media and in a variety of news sources.[13][14]

In May 2018, in collaboration with Zeman, The Aphantasia Network was launched to create a community of people exploring life with Aphantasia, and share stories and strategies to learn more about its impacts.[15]


In the original paper[4] by Professor Adam Zeman, the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ) is used to evaluate the quality of the mental image of 21 self-diagnosed and self-selected participants. This questionnaire invites the person to visualize a series of images (a relative, a rising sun, a shop they know, etc.) and rank how vivid the image is, from "perfectly clear and lively as real seeing" (5 points) to "no image at all, you only know that you are thinking of the object" (1 point). It is categorized as aphantasia if they score a total of 20 or less across 16 questions. [16]


Zeman's paper[4] identified that aphantasia characterizes only voluntary visualizations; the aphantasiacs were still able to have involuntary visualizations (i.e. dreams).

Another study[17] posited that frontal engagement driving feedback connections activates sensory representations in the visual cortex; people with aphantasia could have a deficit with these feedback connections such that the visual cortex cannot be activated to produce an image.

In addition to congenital aphantasia there have been cases reported of acquired aphantasia, due either to brain injury or psychological causes.[18][19]

Notable peopleEdit

Former Pixar chief Ed Catmull has aphantasia. In addition, he surveyed 540 colleagues from Pixar about their mental visualization and found that the production managers tended to have stronger visualizations than the artists.[20]

The philosopher Derek Parfit had aphantasia, which may have influenced his long interest in photography.[21][22]

Blake Ross, the co-creator of the internet browser Mozilla Firefox, has aphantasia.[23]


  1. ^ Larner, A. J. (2016). A Dictionary of Neurological Signs. Springer. p. 29–30. ISBN 978-3319298214. Archived from the original on 2016-12-24. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  2. ^ Kendle, Alan (2017). Aphantasia: Experiences, Perceptions, and Insights. Dark River. p. 11,17.
  3. ^ a b Galton, Francis (19 July 1880). "Statistics of Mental Imagery". Mind. os–V (19): 301–318. doi:10.1093/mind/os-V.19.301. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Zeman, Adam; Dewar, Michaela; Della Sala, Sergio (3 June 2015). "Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia" (PDF). Cortex. 73: 378–380. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019. hdl:10871/17613. ISSN 0010-9452. PMID 26115582.
  5. ^ a b Gallagher, James (26 August 2015). "Aphantasia: A life without mental images". BBC News Online. Archived from the original on 26 August 2015. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  6. ^ Zimmer, Carl (22 June 2015). "Picture This? Some Just Can't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 23 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  7. ^ Grinnell, Dustin (20 April 2016). "My mind's eye is blind – so what's going on in my brain?". New Scientist (2070). Archived from the original on 18 September 2016. Retrieved 9 July 2016.
  8. ^ Clemens, Anna (1 August 2018). "When the Mind's Eye is Blind". Scientific American.
  9. ^ "To my astonishment, I found that the great majority of the men of science to whom I first applied, protested that mental imagery was unknown to them, and they looked on me as fanciful and fantastic in supposing that the words 'mental imagery' really expressed what I believed everybody supposed them to mean. They had no more notion of its true nature than a colour-blind man who has not discerned his defect has of the nature of colour." (Galton, 1880)
  10. ^ "You might not be able to imagine things, and not know it". The Independent. 2016-04-25. Archived from the original on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-16.
  11. ^ Zeman, Adam Z. J.; Della Sala, Sergio; Torrens, Lorna A.; Gountouna, Viktoria-Eleni; McGonigle, David J.; Logie, Robert H. (2010-01-01). "Loss of imagery phenomenology with intact visuo-spatial task performance: A case of 'blind imagination'". Neuropsychologia. 48 (1): 145–155. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.08.024. PMID 19733188.
  12. ^ "Aphantasia: How It Feels To Be Blind In Your Mind | Facebook". www.facebook.com.
  13. ^ Cabral-Isabedra, Catherine (27 April 2016). "Mozilla Firefox Co-Creator Says He Can't Visualize Images: What You Need To Know About Aphantasia". Tech Times. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  14. ^ Clemens, Anna (1 August 2018). "When the Mind's Eye Is Blind". Scientific American. Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  15. ^ "The Aphantasia Network". aphantasia.com. 4 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Vividness of Visual Imagery Quiz". The Aphantasia Network. 23 June 2019. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  17. ^ Keogh, Rebecca; Pearson, Joel (August 2018). "The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia" (PDF). Cortex. 105: 53–60. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012. PMID 29175093. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-03-16. Retrieved 2019-03-30 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  18. ^ de Vito, Stefania; Bartolomeo, Paolo (January 2016). "Refusing to imagine? On the possibility of psychogenic aphantasia. A commentary on Zeman et al. (2015)". Cortex. 74: 334–335. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.06.013. PMID 26195151.
  19. ^ Zeman, Adam; Dewar, Michaela; Della Sala, Sergio (January 2016). "Reflections on aphantasia". Cortex. 74: 336–337. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.08.015. hdl:20.500.11820/b67449c9-1804-4a8f-95ee-c320928c7eeb. PMID 26383091. Archived from the original on 2017-08-28.
  20. ^ Gallagher, James (9 April 2019). "Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'". BBC News. Archived from the original on 9 April 2019. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  21. ^ Appleyard, Bryan (6 June 2018). "Derek Parfit's quest for perfection". NewStatesman. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  22. ^ MacFarquhar, Larissa (29 October 2011). "How To Be Good". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  23. ^ Cabral-Isabedra, Catherine (27 April 2016). "Mozilla Firefox Co-Creator Says He Can't Visualize Images: What You Need To Know About Aphantasia". Tech Times.

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