Hyperphantasia or Aphantasia: How Much Does Your Mind’s Eye See?

Hyperphantasia1

Hyperphantasia is the ability for an individual to create highly graphic images in his or her mind’s eye. In other words, some could call it the conjurings or machinations of an “overactive imagination”. Alexander Brennan, the main character in my middle grade novel, MOONSTRUCK, has an overactive imagination.

Moonstruck Cover
Lucid dreaming, aphantasia, and hyperphantasia sometimes intersect.

I didn’t know there was a “scientifically” precise term for this characteristic, until one of my students shared with me his inability to visualize or create mental images. This information struck me in a strange way. Thus, my curiosity drew me to research it.

Aphantasia_LOR

How interesting that there are people who are “blind in the mind” (aphantasia) while readers (like myself) process words on a page into movies in our minds that sometimes the world we envision while reading is incredibly overwhelming that we must take a break from the roller coasting reading or devour the book in one sitting before not knowing what’s going to happen next becomes unbearable and consumes us.

Ironically, this student LOVES, LOVES, LOVES to read, write fiction, and draw pictures. The drawings are often incomplete, but they are decent and he so enjoys it. Hyperphantasia’s opposite is aphantasia.

I need to know if there are other writers and illustrators in the world that possess either hyperphantasia or aphantasia and what it’s like. I wonder if writers that struggle to create their own mental images when reading, write better prose because of the way their mind works. I wonder if something that could be considered a disadvantage is actually the opposite. For instance, my student that identifies as a person with aphantasia often scores perfect scores or high As on his reading assessments. I wonder why that is. It’s so perfectly peculiar! I love it! 😀

Anyway, thank you for stopping by, and feel free to comment and/or share if you think you are either hyperphantasic or aphantasic.

And if you fall somewhere in the middle, please comment and share! 🙂

45 thoughts on “Hyperphantasia or Aphantasia: How Much Does Your Mind’s Eye See?

  1. I have aphantasia, can’t see a thing in my mind no matter how hard I try! Images are just not there. I only learned less than a year ago about my aphantasia and I was stunned to realize that people really could see things in their minds! I always thought it was metaphorical. I do have a great memory and a decent imagination. So when somebody says “picture this”… I can imagine it, but my imagination does not produce picture. I would love to be able to see what you see… as it is, I can only imagine!

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. Please, tell me more about how you’re able to imagine things, but not produce a picture. Does it mean that you’ve had to memorize common images?

      1. I have aphantasia. Memorizing common images has nothing to with it because images simply aren’t involved. There is nothing but black. I can “picture a red apple”, but I always thought “picture” was a metaphor. The actual sensation in my mind is a unique feeling unparalleled to any sensory input. It’s as though my mind is a field in space that permeates everything and can sense everything. To imagine a red apple zooms in on an entity in the space and envelops it, feeling and inspecting its physical properties, namely its topology. Out of focus in the space are all of the things I associate apples with, and brought together, all of the things I associate the color red with.

  2. I can recognize familiar things when I see them, I just don’t see images “in my mind”. I have no idea how that works in the brain, I guess I must know those things the same way I recognize the printed word… memory? Aphantasia is simply the inability to see objects or words, etc in my mind….except that I can see things when I dream. I have read scientific explanations for that, saying one uses a completely different part of the brain for dreaming and evidently while asleep it can provide images i ‘see’ while i dream. mystifying and miraculous stuff. all neurology!

  3. I have hyperphantasia, and it really amazed me when I found out that not everyone visualises as vividly as I do. It has its ups and downs, when I’m bored I can slip into my own world, with sense of touch, smell, sound, even temperature and taste, so bright and vivid it looks real! Of course, the downside, I zone out a lot and have trouble paying attention. It also causes a lot of intrusive thoughts for me, making sleep hard. For example, I’ll be laying in bed, and I’ll suddenly feel like something’s watching me, or about to grab me, and I’ll vividly imagine that happening. Also when hearing of death, injury or sickness I imagine it so clearly that I’ll feel sick, and it’s hard to get these thoughts from your mind once you’ve seen it happen like it was real.

    I always wonder what it’s like for those with aphantasia, I can’t imagine not being able to visualise things. I would also like to know how clear those with average visual imagery see things!

    1. Hi Angel. Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing your experiences with hyperphantasia. I think the other side of the pendulum (aphantasia) is incredibly interesting also and I’m writing a character that has it.

    2. I also have Hyperphantasia, angels comment perfectly describes how my mind works and visualizes. I couldn’t imagine having aphantasia

  4. Omg i never understood thats a thing hyperphantasia, I mean. I do that. Im a artist, so i have to visualize what i want to paint. And i can do it very clear in my head and then draw it to paper as a copy. I also KNOW what colour goes next to other color. I SEE if the line is wrong, if the characters position is wrong, cos i see the model in my head, in my mind. I have been curious and asked my friends if they can do this, but they cant, so i thought it is just some ability i have developed, but maybe it has always been within me.

  5. I think I have hyperphantasia. I’m also a writer, and my process is to create the world in my mind, the characters, their expressions, their goals, what they’re wearing, what their surroundings look like… and then I just write what I see. I progress the story and continue writing what I’m seeing and hearing, sometimes even smelling… I suppose I’m more of a reporter than an author, lol. Oftentimes, I find it hard to describe what I’m seeing with words, but I do my best.

    As far as reading books, the words are only a guide used to create the world. Where the words fall short, my mind creates to make a whole image… and then it’s just like watching a movie. It’s really entertaining, but extremely time consuming.

    1. I am also a writer, I don’t know if I have hyperphantasia or aphantasia. But I do know, I can picture scenes and stories in my head. I don’t physically see everything but I imagine it in
      such a way that it’s in my minds eye. I can feel the emotions of people in stories, and I sometimes get a pit in my stomach when the characters don’t want to believe something but find out it’s real. Sad songs, sometimes trigger me to cry and it’s intense when I get into a story. I just can’t touch, smell, or taste anything I imagine. But I can hear and see, like it’s a movie playing in the back of my mind. A memory I’m creating. That is why I was shocked that people can physically see what they imagine in their eyelids. If you do ever find a way to increase phantasia, let me know. I would love to have my imaginary senses heightened.

      1. Hello Crystal. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love science and unfortunately I’m no scientist so I don’t know how successful I will be. 🙂 I do think that creating mind maps may help to increase visual memory though. Happy Friday to you!

  6. im like 90% sure i have aphantasia and im known as a talented writer, i have 4 stories published and i am extremely imaginative. i also much prefer reading to watching movies, which is weird since i cant see anything in my mind. i just know what it looks like, but i cant actually see it, my mind basically describes the image in such detail that i know what it looks like without actually seeing an image

    1. Thank you for sharing, Kaelin (love your name). I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post. Your aphantastic experience is so interesting. I find it incredibly amazing that your mind works that way! I’d love to study neuroscience to learn more about how your experience works! Wow! 🙂

  7. i am an artist and i realized i can’t picture things in my head, so i think thats part of the reason that i enjoy drawing and creating art so much, because I can imagine things, but not picture them in my head, so creating art is like making the pictures that my ‘minds eye’ can’t see. as for imagining things and not picturing them, i can imagine the concept, such as an apple. I know that apples are round and i can imagine the concept of an apple, and i know how the lighting would look and all that, but i can’t actually SEE it if that makes sense.

    1. It makes a lot of sense, Valeria. This is how one of my students described his experience to me. My fascination with this topic will never fade. Thank you so much sharing! 🙂

      1. As you were talking about the apple, I was seeing it in full red and rotating it in my mind. Also, don’t know how but I hear your voice. I never read it in my own. How’s that for different? Happens whenever I read anything a person has written.

  8. I have hyperphantasia, I can listen to music in perfect clarity, then change the words or the instruments, even the voice of the singer to anyone else male or female. I also invent things and before it ever hits paper I draw it in my mind in full 3D. I can explode the diagram in my mind’s eye, add and remove pieces and reassemble it and see if it works. I also do this with mathematical equations, theories across varying sciences and see and traverse in places from around the world. I’ve used this talent in recent years to accurately predict earthquakes up to a day before they happen. This also translates over into my dreams, they are very lucid, people in my dreams notice the passage of time and say this specifically to me. I have had dreams of friends that I was longing to reconnect with and where they live and then later reconnect with them and ask did they live in such a place only to find out they did. I always thought I was weird and never fully embraced the thought of telling anyone until now.

    1. Oh my gosh, That Sony Guy, this is incredibly interesting to read. Do you blog about these experience somewhere under a pseudonym? If not, you may consider if you’re not fully comfortable sharing your extraordinary ability and condition. Cheers!

  9. I must have hyperphantasia. I can create such vivid worlds in my mind that they can affect me emotionally. I have issues reading books that are too descriptive They bore me because I don’t need a lot to fill in the needed parts of a picture. I always love dreaming. I have a lot of nightmares and it is like being in a horror movie. I can’t draw or paint anything close to what I see in my mind. My skills are not that good. I an a good writer and I love to read. I do read a fair amount of non-fiction and it takes some discipline to read it. when I remember something from the past it is like watching a rerun of a movie. Many people are surprised at the details that I can remember when I recant an event in our lives. This can go back decades. Details down to the shoes that someone wore. This can all sound like a gift and it is. Sometimes it is a curse. I can picture an event happening and then be very disappointed that it was not quite so good. I get bored easily as my mind can race through all possible out comes of a scenario. Being able to run through thousands of possibilities can make come off as a jerk when someone is trying to tell me something. It can cause my to have anxiety over things that haven’t happened yet. I can laugh at things because I can see some silly outcome of a situation that should not be funny. I never knew there was a name for this I thank you.

  10. When reading, I’m able to picture whole scenes and characters, which is why I’m not interested in reading an audio book. I want to make up my own images lol I think this may also help me to write (and I always did well on literacy assessments).

    1. Hi there, Katherin. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’ve tried one audio book so far — The Hate You Give You — (it was at a great price) and I listened to it for the first several chapters (while driving to and from work) before reverting to reading it on my own at home. I certainly agree with you on assessments and the joyful experience of independent reading! 😀

  11. I also have hyperfantasia…it’s so great to find that some people other than me can imagine things in their mind more than normal. Thank you so much for this..its good to know

  12. I’m very glad I found an actual scientific term for this. I believe I have hyperphantasia. I love to read. Always have and could read way earlier than the average kid and always faster and at a higher level than other kids my age. My teachers always thought there was no way I was comprehending what I was reading but I think it was because I could literally
    Place myself into what I was reading that I could better understand it. On the other token I believe I’m different because I do not have an artistic bone in my body. I can’t draw a decent stick figure and I’m not kidding although I can imagine any great and vivid painting you’d like I cannot actually bring it into reality. I was wondering if any of you have trouble remembering names but almost never forget a face? I’ll forget names of kids I went to school with for 5 years that I still connect with on social media frequently but I can remember the the face of a tv repair guy that stopped by one time 6 years ago that I run into at a gas station. May not exactly remember he was the tv repair guy but I know that I know his face from somewhere. Also what about vividly “transporting” to places you’ve been before? Like right now I could walk through the halls of my high school in my head remembering almost everything about each room I go into. Or any place for that matter that I can recall at least a little bit of, I can pull it back up in my memory and picture it from different angles and views. The best way I can describe it is almost like google earth and then zooming down to street view and gliding down the street going from picture to picture. Except only for places I have been to and can remember. I would love for your guys opinions! I will leave my email if anyone would like to chat more about this!! Thank you! axeltf1868@gmail.com

    1. Hi Axel! Thank you so much for sharing! Yes, I too have a knack for recognizing faces! And guess what? There’s even a test (and a name for it — Super Recognizers!) for it that scientists have developed. Here’s the link: https://greenwichuniversity.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_e3xDuCccGAdgbfT I’m glad that you enjoyed reading this post. I have a character in my YA novel (WIP) that is gifted at this. He also can place himself in prior locations. He’s based off of my second oldest brother (and some of my own traits).

  13. I’m an artist and I paint images from my imagination. I never think of what to paint, I just start seeing things, and then I paint them. For example, if I have painted a platform and I want to put something on it, I look at it and something appears in my mind, like a dog. But I don’t think “I’ll paint a dog” and then visualize it. The dog appears first.

  14. I think I have hyperphantasia. I can get lost in daydreams and my imagination sometimes to my detriment. When reading a book it is just like watching a movie. I even hear the voices of the characters or if there is music or sounds described I hear those as well.

    If there are descriptions of certain touch I feel those as well. Or weirdly when drawing faces my nose itches when I draw or work on the nose of that face. It’s that same sensation of someone reaching out to touch your nose.

    I love writing, reading, music, drawing. I wouldn’t call myself talented. Sometimes drawing or writing is overwhelming because it’s hard to focus on a single thing. Or sometimes I get pulled into the imaginings of a scene and simply stop typing or drawing altogether. I usually have to have music or something else that I can change occasionally to distract myself from simply getting lost in my own thoughts.

    1. Hi Marci, thank you so much for sharing your fascinating experiences! I, too, often have to listen to music to keep myself from getting distracted. It can be a good focusing exercise. 🙂

  15. Interesting I never knew it had a name! I just know I assumed everyone can see what I see all the time until I started actually asking everyone and no one could. Even in a casual conversation or If I overhear someone else’s and they are describing something, or telling a story visions of these play in my head almost like watching a movie. It’s that way with anything I read, hear, when I’m trying to come up with an outfit, when I want to paint an image will pop in my head and I build off it until I like it then I put it on a canvas. I wasn’t aware so many people can’t do this.

  16. I didn’t even know that this has a scientific name but I think I have hyperphantasia cuz I can imagine things that I think in my brain that my eyes can see and not only that I also can imagine literally moving animations I can even remember the movie clips or videos that I watched on youtube or the video games that I played and also the memories that I had in the past and also this also this images also plays in my head when I’m listening or simply just hearing a conversation I can picture in my head what they are talking about and also I sometimes hear voices in my head or even movie lines or even music that I listened to and I also daydream when I think about doing it especially at school when I’m bored I just think about images and animations or entertaining videos that I watched on the Internet and when I’m reading I can often picture it in my head, my classmate even called me crazy one time because he saw me laughing at my own at school cuz I was picturing a meme in my head to entertain myself while class because I’m bored.

  17. I am somewhere between these two because in sometimes when reading a book and the author puts many details about the setting then ill be able to picture the setting in my mind unlike with authors that don’t put much information about the setting it just is hard to clearly picture the setting. and this is really cool because I never knew what it is called when I’m able to clearly picture things without the picture.

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