How common is aphantasia?

In this blog we will discuss how common aphantasia is. 

We will also briefly discuss what aphantasia is, its symptoms, causes, and possible treatments for aphantasia.

How common is aphantasia?

Aphantasia is not common. Based on the research done by Dr.Zeman in 2015 and more recently by C.J. Dance and colleagues in 2022, approximately 0.7-0.8 percent of the population might be affected by aphantasia. 

According to a 2015 survey and study done on the prevalence of aphantasia among the general population, Dr. Adam Zeman- one for the first researchers to identify the presence of this condition- estimated that 0.7 percent of the population have aphantasia. 

Another study published in 2022, that explore the prevalence of this condition found that approximately 3.9% of the general population might be affected by this condition marked by weak mental imagery with more severe forms where this is complete absence of mental imagery going down to .8%

Based on these two studies one, it is possible that 0.7-0.8% of the general population might have this condition, however, these studies cannot be generalised. 

This suggests that though there is a significant number of people who have this condition, it is not as common as other conditions such as hyperphantasia where Dr.Zeman found that approximately 2.6 percent of the population is said to have this condition. 

Aphantasia as a condition was first identified by a British neurologist Dr. Zeman in 2005 when he came across a patient who reported that he is unable to conjure mental images after a surgical procedure. 

Since then, Dr. Zeman has devoted his time to understand this condition and in the latest research conducted by Dr. Zeman and his colleagues, there has been hints that there may be some connection related to changes in the wiring of the brain that are connected to visual centres and other regions that might have some influence on the individual unable to conjure up mental images.

This particular condition is not considered a diagnosis by Dr.Zeman himself, and rather is believed to be a variation in human traits. 

Most experts of the field do not consider this a medical disorder because it does not lead to dysfunction in one’s life; in fact, most people live their whole lives without realising that they have aphantasia. 

What is aphantasia?

Aphantasia refers to the inability to voluntarily create a mental picture in your head or your mind.

People who have aphantasia are unable to picture a scene, person, or object, even if it is familiar and part of their daily lives- like their mothers faces, the image of their pets, or a mundane object like an apple. 

Aphantasia is still poorly understood and it was only first identified as a phenomenon in 1880 by Sir Francis Galton; however the term aphantasia and modern research into the pehnomomeon was instigate by Cognitive neurologist Adam Zeman in 2015 after coming across the condition in the year 2005. 

Because of how new the phenomenon is to the field of empirical science, there is still not much information as to what it exactly is, what causes it, and how to treat it. 

Researchers believe that this particular condition has a spectrum where some people might have less of a mental capacity for mental imagery while others might have a higher capacity for it. 

According to writers at healthline, aphantasia seems to exist on a spectrum, because some people with the condition report a complete inability to create a mental image while other people have a greatly reduced ability.

Even in the research conducted by CJ Dance and colleagues in 2022, there was a distinction between weak mental imagery and complete absence of mental imagery. 

Many people with aphantasia are self-diagnosed since there is no official criteria for diagnosis and hence no treatment for the condition. 

What are the symptoms of aphantasia?

There are no external and observable symptoms of the condition aphantasia other than subjective reports.

According to Healthline, People with aphantasia experience either an inability or severely limited ability to create a mental image.

Some researchers also have found evidence that people who have this condition might exhibit some stronger abilities in other areas such as verbal, mathematical, and verbal abilities. 

Other symptoms of aphansatisa that has been reported y some people include:

  • decreased imagery involving other senses
  • less vivid memories
  • less vivid ability to imagine future scenarios
  • trouble with facial recognition (Healthline)

What causes aphantasia?

The exact causes of Aphantasia is yet to be determined. However most researchers believe that there are some possible factors that play an important part in the development of this condition.

Some researchers believe that it could be due to brain injury or a psychological disorder. Whereas others believe that there might be abnormal brain patterns that could be tied to this condition. 

Damage to a wide range of areas in the brain could be linked to aphantasia based on a 2020 case study where an individual developed aphantasia after the posterior cerebral artery was affected by a stroke. 

Some researchers have theorised that aphantasia could be related to psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders. 

However, all of these theories and hypotheses lack research- there is not much evidence that connects these factors to the development of aphantasia for one to conclude that these factors are the causes of the condition. 

Can aphantasia be treated?

Since there is limited research on thai condition and there is still so much that experts do not know about this condition, this condition is not diagnosable and as a result, there are no treatments available for it. 

Due to what little is known, there is still a huge gap in research which the researchers are trying to fill to understand what causes it and subsequently how it can be treated. 

However, it is important to know that this condition is not debilitating and hence there is not much urgency to have this condition treated because in most cases, the condition does not need to be treated. 

Rather most researchers, including Dr. Seman himself considers as a variation in the human population- like various traits as a result of evolution. 

Many people with aphantasia might not even know that they have this condition and go about their lives without any challenges. It does not get in the way of someone’s life success and experiences. 

While it does not have a major impact on human experience, it can affect your learning- because mental imagery is an important part of learning which can be difficult for people with aphantasia- making it harder for students to recall and learn. 

There is much more research that needs to be done to understand what it is, what causes it, and subsequently, what are the possible ways to improve one’s ability to visual mental images. 

As for the present, It’s still not clear if people with aphantasia can improve their ability to make voluntary mental pictures. Due to lack of understanding, there is no criteria for diagnosis and thus, no standardised treatment for this condition. 

However, according to a groundbreaking case study on a 31 year old adult with aphantasia who was subjected to various interventions such as:

  • the card game “memory”
  • pattern block memory activities
  • activities requiring the description of objects and outdoor scenes
  • afterimage techniques
  • computer activities requiring picture recognition

For one hour for 18 weeks of therapy, he reported that he was able to visualise some things before he slept and when he was sleeping as well, however he did not report being able to visualise during the day.

This particular case study does suggest that there is a possibility for intervention however there needs to be more research done in this aspect to be able to generalise the findings of these studies to formulate an intervention for the treatment of aphantasia.\

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed how common aphantasia is. 

We have also briefly discussed what aphantasia is, its symptoms, causes, and possible treatments for aphantasia.

FAQ related to How common is aphantasia?

Is having aphantasia rare?

Yes, aphantasia is a rare condition and it is not as common as other conditions such as hyperphantasia. People with this condition make up only 0.7-0.8 percent of the general population according to a 2022 study.

Is it normal to have aphantasia?

Yes, it is normal to have aphantasia even if it is not common because this condition is not a life altering condition in fact, the pioneering researcher of this condition Dr. Zeman calls it a variation in human experience and not necessarily a disease in need for a diagnosis. 

Is having aphantasia bad?

No. having aphantasia is not bad since it is not a life debilitating condition. Many people with aphantasia might not even know that they have this condition and go about their lives without any challenges. It does not get in the way of someone’s life success and experiences. 

While it does not have a major impact on human experience, it can affect your learning- because mental imagery is an important part of learning which can be difficult for people with aphantasia- making it harder for students to recall and learn. 

Is aphantasia linked to IQ?

According to one study,  people with aphantasia had a significantly elevated IQ compared to people with hyperphantasia. However this particular study cannot be generalised to make conclusions of the link between IQ and Aphantasia. 

Is aphantasia a learning disability?

Because there is limited understanding on what aphantasia is, it cannot be categorised as a learning disability however, While it does not have a major impact on human experience, it can affect your learning- because mental imagery is an important part of learning which can be difficult for people with aphantasia- making it harder for students to recall and learn. 

Is aphantasia genetic?

According to BBC science focus, there seems to be a heritable quality of aphantasia to some degree, with people with aphantasia being more likely to have a close relative (parent, sibling or child) who also struggles conjure up mental pictures and imagery in their mind. .

References

Yetman.D. Is There a Cure for Aphantasia? healthline . Retrieved on 7th March 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/aphantasia-cure

Cherry. K. An Overview of Aphantasia. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 7th march 2022, https://www.verywellmind.com/aphantasia-overview-4178710

Zimmer.C. Many People Have a Vivid ‘Mind’s Eye,’ While Others Have None at All. The NewYork Times. Retrieved on 7th March 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/08/science/minds-eye-mental-pictures-psychology.html

Pounder.Z.Aphantasia explained: some people can’t form mental pictures. The conversation. Retrieved on 7th March 2022. https://theconversation.com/aphantasia-explained-some-people-cant-form-mental-pictures-162445#:~:text=Some%20people%2C%20when%20asked%20to,images%20within%20their%20mind’s%20eye.

Zeman A, Dewar M, Della Sala S. Lives without imagery – Congenital aphantasia. Cortex. 2015 Dec;73:378-80. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.019. Epub 2015 Jun 3. PMID: 26115582.

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