26th APS Annual Convention: Mark Your Calendar (San Francisco, CA, USA - May 22-25, 2014)


Mental Imagery: From Functional Mechanisms to Clinical Applications

Friday, May 23, 2014, 1:00 PM - 2:20 PM
Franciscan Room A

Chair: Stephen M. Kosslyn
Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute

Mental imagery has played a distinct role in discussions of psychology for thousands of years. Only in the past 30 years has empirical work gained traction. Here, four distinguished researchers present empirical and theoretical accounts of mental imagery from "low-level" sensory mechanisms, through memory, to clinical applications and future directions.

Research into mental imagery has a fascinating biography. Historically mental imagery research suffered criticism due to the methodological constraints caused by imagery’s inherent private nature. However, recently many objective research methods have been introduced that allow a more direct investigation into the mechanisms and neural substrates of mental imagery. Accordingly mental imagery research is currently thriving, with numerous new discoveries over the past years.

This symposium will cover multiple dimensions of imagery. Thomas Naselaris will begin by presenting some exciting new fMRI work on the sensory properties of primary visual cortex involved in imagery. Second, Joel Pearson will talk about the similarities and differences between voluntary and involuntary imagery. Third Daniel Schacter will discuss the commonalities and differences between the neural dynamics of remembering the past and imagining the future. To finish, Emily Holmes will give an overview of ubiquitous role of imagery in mental disorders and new direction in treatment innovations. The symposium will be introduced and chaired by Stephen Kosslyn, who will lead a general discussion on mental imagery following the organized talks. Together this symposium presents an exciting glimpse into the empirical, theoretical and clinical work on mental imagery, one of our most useful and ubiquitous sensory-cognitive processes.

Structure and timing (80min total): - 5 minute introduction by chair - 15 minutes for each of the four talks - 15 minutes open discussion

Subject Area: Cognitive

Visual receptive fields as generators of mental imagery
Thomas Naselaris
Medical University of South Carolina
Activity in early visual cortex is tuned to retinotopic location, orientation, and spatial frequency. Tuning to these low-level visual features in early visual cortex is reflected in the structure of its receptive fields, which are retinotopically localized, oriented, and periodic. An important discovery of the last two decades is that receptive fields with these properties provide a particularly efficient basis for generating images that have the statistical structure of natural scenes. This discovery has lent impetus to the theory that receptive fields in early visual cortex can function not only as passive filters of retinal input, but as mechanisms for generating representations of the visual environment that are independent of retinal input. According to the theory, these internal visual representations reflect prior knowledge about the visual environment, and are integrated with incoming sensory input to support some form of probabilistic inference. In this talk, we will explore the idea of receptive fields as generators of internal representations by examining the role that receptive fields play in generating mental images. Mental images are the canonical form of internal visual representation: they are independent of retinal input and appear to be essential for many forms of inference. We present fMRI evidence that much of the BOLD activity in early visual cortex produced during mental imagery can be explained by voxel-wise receptive field models of tuning to retinotopic location, orientation, and spatial frequency. We will discuss the implications of this finding for the structure of anatomical feedback projections to early visual cortex, and for the development of brain-machine interfaces that are driven by mental imagery.

Co-Author: Cheryl Olman Dr.

Co-Author: Dustin Stansbury

Co-Author: Jack L. Gallant, University of California, Berkeley

Co-Author: Kamil Ugurbil

Similarities and differences between voluntary and involuntary mental imagery
Joel Pearson
University of New South Wales
Mental imagery is typically defined as a sensory-like experience without the relevant afferent sensory information. Here I will propose a framework for understanding mental imagery, consisting of two sub-types of imagery: voluntary and involuntary. One line of research has viewed mental imagery as a voluntarily produced sensory representation based on memory. A second line has focussed on sensory representations automatically activated by external and sometimes internal cues. Here I will talk about new methods to measure and directly compare voluntary and involuntary mental imagery. Both types of imagery can have strong effects on subsequent sensory perception. However, these effects differ in informative and predictable ways. The proposed framework is analogous to the sub-types of attention: endogenous and exogenous. These data and the theoretical framework might help unify findings from different fields and perhaps even different species.

Imagining the future: What is the role of episodic memory?
Daniel L. Schacter
Harvard University
Recent studies have shown that imagining or simulating future events relies on many of the same cognitive and neural processes as remembering past events. According to the constructive episodic simulation hypothesis, such overlap indicates that both remembered past and imagined future events rely heavily on episodic memory. An alternative possibility is that commonalities between remembering and imagining reflect the influence of more general, non-episodic factors such as descriptive ability or narrative style. This talk will consider evidence that helps to clarify the role of episodic and non-episodic processes in remembering the past and imagining the future.

Co-Author: Kevin P. Madore

Mental Imagery and Emotional Disorders: from Lab to Clinic and Back Again
Emily Holmes
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, United Kingdom
We experience mental imagery when we see in our mind’s eye, hear with our mind’s ear etc. Imagery allows us to remember or make creative leaps. However intrusive, affect-laden images cause distress across psychological disorders. Understanding mental imagery may therefore provide keys for therapy innovation: (1) Mental imagery and emotion. We will discuss research in support of the hypothesis that compared to verbal processing, mental imagery has a more powerful impact on emotion (2) Flashbacks. Distressing intrusive images – “flashbacks” to a past trauma are the hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Visuospatial cognitive tasks – including the computer game Tetris - appear to protect against analogue flashback development (3) Flash-forwards. Intrusive mental imagery can also occur of the future, such as “flashforwards” to suicidal acts or manic pursuits in bipolar disorder Experimental psychopathology informs mechanisms underlying psychological disorders, and treatment developments (e.g. computerized) that may look little like traditional talking therapies. Mental imagery offers fresh perspectives and may opens territory for clinical innovation.

Stephen M. Kosslyn (Discussant)
Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute

Email Bookmark and Share