Home Medizin Die Hirnforschung bietet neue Erkenntnisse zu Aphantasie und autobiografischem Gedächtnis

Die Hirnforschung bietet neue Erkenntnisse zu Aphantasie und autobiografischem Gedächtnis

von NFI Redaktion

Individuals with a lack of visual imagination are known to have a condition called Aphantasia. Researchers from the University Hospital Bonn (UKB), the University of Bonn, and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) investigated how the absence of mental images affects long-term memory. They were able to demonstrate that changes in two important brain regions, the hippocampus and the occipital lobe, as well as their interaction, influence the impaired recall of personal memories in Aphantasia. The study results, which advance the understanding of autobiographical memory, have now been published online by the journal „eLife“.

For most of us, recalling personal moments from our own lives is easy. These memories are usually associated with vivid internal images. People who cannot generate any or very weak mental images are referred to as Aphantasics. Previous neuroscientific studies have shown that especially the hippocampus, which acts as a buffer in the brain during memory formation, supports both autobiographical memory and visual imagination. However, the connection between the two cognitive functions is not yet fully understood: „Can you remember certain events in your life without creating mental images?“ We delved into this question and, in collaboration with the Institute of Psychology at the University of Bonn, investigated the „Autobiographical Memory of People with and without Visual Imagination,“ says corresponding author Dr. Cornelia McCormick from the Clinic for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Geriatric Psychiatry, who also researches at the DZNE and the University of Bonn.

Recalling Memories Depends on Generating Mental Images

The Bonn team led by McCormick explored whether the hippocampus – especially its connectivity to other brain regions – is altered in people with Aphantasia and examined the brain activities and structures associated with deficits in autobiographical memory in Aphantasia. The study included 14 individuals with Aphantasia and 16 control subjects. The extent of Aphantasia and the corresponding autobiographical memory were initially determined using questionnaires and interviews.

We found that people with Aphantasia have greater difficulties recalling memories. Not only do they report fewer details, their narratives are also less vivid and their confidence in their own memory is diminished. This suggests that our ability to remember our personal biography is closely linked to our imagination.“

Merlin Monzel, Co-Author, Ph.D. Student, Institute of Psychology, University of Bonn

Subsequently, the study participants recalled autobiographical events while images of their brains were captured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). „It was observed that the hippocampus, which plays a crucial role in retrieving vivid, detailed autobiographical memories, is less activated in people with Aphantasia,“ says co-author and doctoral student Pitshaporn Leelaarporn, who works at UKB and DZNE. There were also differences in the interaction between the hippocampus and the visual cortex, responsible for processing and integrating visual information in the brain and located in the occipital lobe. „The connectivity between the hippocampus and the visual cortex correlated with imagination in individuals without Aphantasia, while there was no connection in those affected,“ explains Leelaarporn.

„Overall, we were able to show that autobiographical memory does not work as well in people with limited visual imagination as it does in people who can imagine things very well. These results raise further questions that we are currently investigating,“ says McCormick.

On the one hand, it is now important to determine whether individuals who have been blind from birth and have never built a repertoire of mental images can remember detailed autobiographical events. On the other hand, the Bonn researchers want to investigate whether this ability is trainable. „It might even be possible to help people suffering from memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease by offering training in visual imagination instead of the usual memory training,“ says McCormick.


University Hospital Bonn (UKB)

Journal Reference:

Monzel, M., et al. (2024) Hippocampal-Occipital Connectivity Reflects Autobiographical Memory Deficits in Aphantasia. eLife. doi.org/10.7554/eLife.94916.1.

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