Cannot Visualise (Part Two) (Last Edited: 2010 Sep 25)

2008 November 29

Go back to Part 1 | Go on to Part 3

This is part two of a three part series about migraine. You can use the links above or at the end of this page to go back or forward. Or you can jump to any part from the Visualisation FAQs page link; where you can read my list of reported problems.

Please note: This series is now very out of date. I am in the process of updating them with new research that I have found. To learn more, please click this link: https://porillion.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/visualization-forming-mental-images-and-episodic-memory-updates-to-come/

I am also thinking about setting up an online support forum for people with no/low visualization. If you would be interested in this, please leave a comment to the post: https://porillion.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/do-you-want-a-support-forum-if-you-cannot-visualise/

A quick search on Google will show three things about visualisation:

  • There’s an awful lot of opinion that those who say they can’t visualise actually can,
  • There are a very few people who admit openly that they can’t or have a great deal of difficulty doing so,
  • That there’s practically no obvious research being done looking at the variability of people’s ability to visualise.

So it may be surprising if you can see things in your mind’s eye if someone tells you they can’t, or can only do so in a limited way. It may be more surprising if I told you that in my own case I once could do so, but now can’t. In other words – your ability to visualise can change.

But there is a study on the variability in the “vividness of mental imagery” published openly. It was carried out in 2006 and published in Science Direct in 2007. Link: http://www.hnl.bcm.tmc.edu/articles/ScienceDirect2007.pdf

The study looked at a small group of 8 subjects, 2 females and 6 males, aged 25-31. It looked at three tasks:

  • Subjective vividness rating, in which the subjects described how well they could visualise.
  • A colour naming task, which excluded two additional subjects who scored too low.
  • A visualisation (mental imaging) task while being scanned by an fMRI scanner.

The first task used the vividness of visual imagery questionnaire developed by Marks in 1973. You can find out more on this from this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vividness_of_Visual_Imagery_Questionnaire_(VVIQ).

The colour naming task is explained in the link to the study.

The main part of the study itself looked at whether the subjects’ reported vividness in the VVIQ could be correlated by the fMRI scan. To do this, they were blindfolded and asked to visualise a preset task while scanned. Again, the full details are in the linked document.

The study found a statistically significant correlation between:

  • The objective data from each subject’s visual cortex from the fMRI scan, and
  • The subjective rating of that subject in the VVIQ.

In other words, the person’s own assessment of how well or badly they can visualise is shown in the scan. This confirms that there can indeed be variability in how people can visualise.

Go back to Part 1 | Go on to Part 3



  1. A very interesting subject indeed, because I need to visualise lots of things. I find it an integral part of how I do stuff. Firstly I do find it difficult to pre-visualise words, where as Scotty can visualise a word, break it in to letters and say it backwards without thinking too hard. Something that comes I think with database and System design that he does. I sew and knit and have to be able to see what the resulting object will look like before I make it, or it may end up slightly bent or wrongly put together. Prime example last night when I was sewing and ended up going backwards taking things apart again because it did not work. I did not take enough visualisation and get it right first time. Measure twice cut once and all that.
    I was wondering if there could be a craft that could help you because most crafts, or the act of creation of an object from your hands greatly increases your chances of building the brain pathways that encourage visualisation of what the item becomes if you change it. Even origami would help! đŸ™‚ much love and thanks for the notes recently. Sorry I’ve not been able to get back to you directly.

  2. Thanks, Jiva. I’d not thought that there may be something like a craft I could do that may help. That’s something I’m going to look into.

    Meanwhile, on the subject of words being jumbled, this site passes the time:


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