The Eye’s Mind – a study of the neural basis of visual imagination and its role in culture is a research project, which launched in January 2015, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Innovation Award. It is led by the neurologist Adam Zeman, who has a wide interest in the neural basis of experience, in collaboration with the art historian John Onians, who is a pioneer in the use of neuroscience in the humanities. The project unites researchers and disciplines in order to study our distinctively human ability to imagine, highlight links between our experience, brain science and art, and throw light on the wide variation in our capacity to ‘visualise’. Our research investigates the ability from both scientific and artistic perspectives, pursuing three related strands of enquiry:
Strand 1 is a systematic meta-analysis of the large body of research that has examined what happens in the brain when we imagine – and specifically ‘visualise’ – searching for consistent patterns in the varied and sometimes conflicting results of previous studies. View Winlove et al – The neural correlates
Strand 2 reviews the insights into and theories of visual imagination which artists, students of art, philosophers and others have proposed over the two and half thousand years since such thinking began. We ask what questions are raised, by these insights and theories, for the science of imagination. View Frontiers in Psychology
Strand 3 studies individuals whose visual imagery lies at the extremes of the vividness spectrum. A small proportion of healthy individuals, perhaps two or three in a hundred, lack visual imagination completely, a phenomenon we have termed aphantasia, while others have imagery as vivid as ‘real seeing’ – hyperphantasia. View Zeman et al, Phantasia – the Psychological Significance of Lifelong Visual Imagery Extremes
Extreme Imagination Conference and Exhibition
The award of AHRC ‘Follow-on Funding’ enabled the Eye’s Mind to produce the first international conference for people with ‘extreme imagination’ in April 2019 at the University of Exeter, alongside an exhibition of work by aphantasic and hyperphantasic artists at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Tramway, Glasgow. An online version of the exhibition is now available, conceived and created by Fiona Macpherson and Joanna Helfer of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience, with extensive documentation of the conference and exhibition, plus supporting information about research into extreme imagination. Explore Extreme Imagination here.
The Eye’s Mind researchers are keen to hear from those whose visual imagery lies at the extremes of the vividness spectrum. If you would be interested in taking part in research, please get in touch.