Mind Over Matter: Imagery at Work and in the Classroom

Kosslyn posted a book chapter on Mental Imagery and Implicit Memory. Some interesting take-home points:

- mental imagery can be used to access implicit (or not conscious) memory
(hands-on learning and experiences can fall under this category for instance)

- during visualization, "not only does one 'see oneself' perform an action (a visual image), but also one is aware of the spatial relations of objects and their parts (spatial images), the sounds associated with an action (auditory images), and the bodily sensations that accompany movements (kinesthetic images)

- mental practice works, but best if combined with physical practice, and more likely to benefit if there is a lot of 'cognitive' component associated with the task...for instance if a task is demanding in terms of multiple steps, organization, and decision-making, mental practice is especially valuable

The article also has interesting tidbits about the importance of positive imagery (e.g. test subjects who visualized successful golf puttts improved their putting accuracy by 30% vs. those who visualized missing their puts decreased their accuracy by 20%) and excerpts from spatial experts engaged in high stakes one-shot events like surgery to remove conjoined twins - and imagery was critical in their preparation.

"When I do a real operation, I play the videotape ahead of time in my mind, Dr. Shapiro said..."I do the case in my head," said Dr. Maria Ortega, an anesthesiologist. "I must have done it 100 times. Everytime, a problem would come up and I would find a solution and do it again. Every time i ran it in my head, it went faster."

The need for imagery to be integrated probably accounts for why kids with sensory processing disorders have so much trouble with procedural and automatic learning (and activities like handwriting). It also explains why they are so disadvantaged on heavy cognitive load tasks like multi-stepped mathematics or writing to an open-ended prompt. The positive imagery tidbit reinforces the importance of optimism on performance outcome.

For more on imagery in the classroom, check out this article on Mental imagery in classroom reading. Some key points:

- 60% of 5th graders reported imagery at 'think-aloud' pauses during read aloud sessions

- imagery, emotional points in stories were remembered better and over a longer period of time than 'important' information

- after more than 48 hrs after a story reading, students tended to remember visual, affective, and reader-originated imagery

- language concreteness (for example sensory details), because of its ability to trigger imagery, was one of the most important factors for determining comprehension and learning


  1. When I draw, I don't see things in my mind fully, but I just get ideas from drawing and they turn out great because people really like them. I've been drawing in three dimensions lately, and I just know how the images I make fit together and what they mean, but until very recently I didn't fully see them in my mind. I'm not sure what my thought process is.

  2. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I just decided to start a blog in order to try to sort through some of the research and thinking I've been trying to do about my son's pdd-nos. My first entry is about some of my confusion about gamma waves, and it just occurred to me that you would probably have some interesting things to say about that topic. I know you're busy, but if you're interested and have time, I would love to hear anything you have to say on that topic ... (here it is!: http://regardingautism.blogspot.com/)