Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vivid Imaginations

People who say they have vivid personal imagery, really can fire up their visual cortices when they imagine. In an interesting study from Texas, researchers showed that people who said they could make vivid images really could activate their early visual brain centers better those who said they couldn't.

This matches with our informal surveys of children and adults who tell us that they have vivid images ("I don't go to movies because the pictures in my head are better than what I see on the screen") or don't ("I don't know what people mean when they tell me to make a picture in my head").

The study also adds an fascinating tidbit about individual differences in visual imagery and common cognitive tests like the Stroop. The Stroop is often used as an index of attentional dysfunction. It's like the figure're supposed to ignore what it says and name the color. Many studies have been devoted to documenting impaired Stroop performance among children with ADHD, and usually an impaired performance is chalked up to weak executive function or even impulsivity. But interestingly, researchers have also found that "unaffected" sibilings of ADHD-diagnosed children are also more susceptible to Stroop interference than children from non-ADHD families.

The newest tidbit is - that subjects with more vivid visual imagery (subjectively as well as objectively confirmed by visual fMRI signal) were found to be more vulnerable to Stroop interference! That makes perfect sense from the visual biological perspective, but it raises legitimate questions about what Stroop performance differences mean.

Interestingly, there is a significant anecodotal literature about creativity and children who meet behavioral criteria for ADHD. This new study raises interesting questions about brain-based differences and their interpretation.

Vivid Imagery in the Brain, Stroop
Heritability of Stroop Performance in 12 Year Olds
Coincidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Creativity
ADHD, Creativity, and the Commercial Art Industry

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  1. I am curious. I am a person who can bring up very vivid images in my head. I use this skill all the time to remember things.

    I am also an adult with ADHD-primarily inattentive type.

    When I look at the Stroop, I can read the name of the color but the actual color difference makes me nauseated. Have you heard about this kind of reaction? I also get nauseated with those "Faces and Vases" kind of of pictures. I have to look away.

  2. Hi there. Some people do get visceral reactions to certain colors and color clashes.

    We don't know the biology, but because colors evoke other brain areas (associations, feelings, etc.), it might just be from a downstream effect.

    Sometimes when people do intense visual activities, or intense other sensory (e.g. sound-music) - they can feel exhausted. It is also probably because the sensory experience triggers a lot of brain activation - leaving one exhausted even though no extensive "physical" activity has occurred.