Mental Imagery: Functional Mechanisms and Clinical Applications

Joel Pearson, Thomas Naselaris, Emily A. Holmes, Stephen M. Kosslyn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

517 Scopus citations


Mental imagery research has weathered both disbelief of the phenomenon and inherent methodological limitations. Here we review recent behavioral, brain imaging, and clinical research that has reshaped our understanding of mental imagery. Research supports the claim that visual mental imagery is a depictive internal representation that functions like a weak form of perception. Brain imaging work has demonstrated that neural representations of mental and perceptual images resemble one another as early as the primary visual cortex (V1). Activity patterns in V1 encode mental images and perceptual images via a common set of low-level depictive visual features. Recent translational and clinical research reveals the pivotal role that imagery plays in many mental disorders and suggests how clinicians can utilize imagery in treatment. Recent research suggests that visual mental imagery functions as if it were a weak form of perception.Evidence suggests overlap between visual imagery and visual working memory - those with strong imagery tend to utilize it for mnemonic performance.Brain imaging work suggests that representations of perceived stimuli and mental images resemble one another as early as V1.Imagery plays a pivotal role in many mental disorders and clinicians can utilize imagery to treat such disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1478
Pages (from-to)590-602
Number of pages13
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.P. is supported by Australian NHMRC grants APP1024800, APP1046198, and APP1085404, Career Development Fellowship APP1049596, and ARC Discovery Project DP140101560. E.A.H. is supported by the Medical Research Council (United Kingdom) Intramural Programme (MC-A060-5PR50), a Wellcome Trust Clinical Fellowship (WT088217), and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Programme. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health. Funding to pay the Open Access publication charges for this article was provided by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Authors.


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