The existence and use of mental images

Project: Research

Layman's description

We have in previous studies shown that eye movements to a high degree do reflect spatial positions from a mental visualization of a scene or a picture. This project, therefore, uses eye-tracking to study mental image representations, their role in human cognition and in which situations they are used. Our method has proven to be very potent and many aspects of mental imagery will be investigated.

Experiences of having mental images are apparent in a lot of situations in everyday life. For example, we “see” images when we mentally recreate experiences, when we plan for future events, when we solve problems and when we read an absorbing novel. However, the existence of mental images and how they are represented in the brain is an old philosophical question that has been one of the hottest topics of debate in the cognitive sciences during (at least) the past forty years. The critical question in this debate is what format internal image representations consist of. Do such representations consist of an analog format which shares properties of the scene it depicts or do all of our mental representations consist of a universal propositional format where mental images are represented in the same way as, for instance, language?

Internal representations have historically been very hard to study. However, with present day eye-tracking techniques a novel way to investigate this issue has emerged. We have, for instance, in a previous study (Johansson et al., 2006) demonstrated that participants who recall scenes from memory, while looking at a blank screen, spontaneously execute eye movements to “nothing” that closely reflect the content and spatial layout of the imagined scene.

This project is an extension of this previous study and aims to investigate the existence of internal image representations and their role in human cognition.
Effective start/end date2009/01/012011/12/31


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