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Afantasy: When the pictorial imagination is lacking
Flat share party with consequences
Schlatter always considered expressions such as "fading memories" or "imagining something" to be metaphors - similar to some of Galton's study participants in the 19th century. It wasn't until a year ago that the young man discovered at a party in a shared apartment that he was affected by afantasy. In the kitchen he got into conversation with acquaintances and someone asked how it can be that you can see things and visualize them at the same time. He was surprised that this nonsensical question received serious answers. The next morning he started interviewing his friends and doing research on the Internet. Until he realized that the pictorial imagination actually existed - just not with him.
Many people with afantasy only learned through coverage of Zeman's studies that you can see things in your mind's eye. Some of those affected found it a relief to finally have a name for what differentiates them from others. They had found it hard to put the lack of mental images into words, and those around them had trouble understanding them. The neurologist was surprised by the gratitude shown by the people who contacted him.
How widespread is the afantasy? Zeman's estimate is that roughly two percent of the population is affected. He came to this conclusion after having the VVIQ filled out by around 700 people. The proportion coincides with predictions by the American psychologist Bill Faw from 2009, who - himself affected by afantasy - carried out studies on the phenomenon over a period of ten years. In contrast to Zeman's research, however, his findings remained largely unknown.
Strictly "binary", as Schlatter puts it, does not seem to be the thing with the visual imagination. "What you can synthesize in your head is different for everyone," he realized when he began to discuss his discovery with friends. Zeman came to the same conclusion after examining the 700 subjects. The scores they achieved in the VVIQ behaved like a somewhat shifted normal distribution: Most of the participants had an average visual imagination; they could see images in their minds, but not very detailed. Participants with a below-average imagination were rarer than those who saw above-average clear and vivid images in their minds. Zeman describes the latter as hyperfantasy, analogous to Afantasy.
How is your visual imagination?
Imagine a store where you go shopping frequently. What does the shop window look like? What shape, color and details is the entrance door? You enter the shop and go to the cash register, the seller serves you, money changes hands.
If you can imagine these scenes without difficulty, but the resulting images are less detailed and less vivid than reality, your imagination is probably in the normal range. If you can envision the scenes as clearly and vividly as if you were actually seeing them, it could be that you are being struck by hyperfantasy. If, on the other hand, you do not perceive any images and only "know" that you are thinking of a scene, this could be an indication of afantasy.
From the VVIQ
But can the neurologist be sure that people are not simply describing or evaluating what they are imagining differently? Does Afantasy Really Exist? In fact, Zeman's findings are largely based on subjective accounts. The scientist admits that there is a certain margin of error in the answers to the questionnaire. Nevertheless, he is convinced that there is afantasy. On the one hand, because neurological findings, as in the case of MX, underpin them, and on the other hand, because connections with other abnormalities and disorders have emerged in the meantime.
For example, the phenomenon is related to poor autobiographical memory. In addition, many people with afantasy seem to be additionally affected by prosopagnosia: They have difficulty recognizing faces. However, the two side effects rarely occur together. It is the same with Schlatter. He can only remember gaps of past New Year's Eve; however, he would easily recognize a face that he last saw several years ago. For Zeman this is an indication that different subgroups of the afantasy exist.
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