• Question: How is it that you can picture things in your mind?

    Asked by cai192546 to Kimberley, Amy, Drew, Sara on 23 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Amy MacQueen

      Amy MacQueen answered on 22 Jun 2011:

      Hey cai!

      You know what? I actually don’t know!! Apparently different people are better or worse at this than others and some people think that they cannot picture things in their minds at all. I would say that almost certainly it is to do with neuronal connections in your brain. The more you look at something the more it gets imprinted and the easier it is to remember. If you are visualising something that hasn’t actually happened you must be drawing on the experience of what you already know and things you have already seen and then making logical predictions of what something is like based on that. This will involve synaptic plasticity and the use of things already in your brain. For instance its easier to imagine what a train crash looks like if you have seen another sort of crash or a train – if you grew up in a desert and have only ever seen say camels and have never seen any other type of transport the picture you have will be very very different! The brain is a very complex thing that we do not yet fully understand!


    • Photo: Sara Imari Walker

      Sara Imari Walker answered on 22 Jun 2011:

      Wow cai! This is a really great question, and a tough on to answer! As Amy said our brains are really complex. I think she has some interesting points! Here is how I think about it. We can recall memories right? When we recall them they become active. Active in the sense that we can think about them, change what is happening in them, and rerecord them in our memory. Our active brain is what reads out all of our sensory perceptions as well. So for one when I am sitting here trying to recall something, I actually feel as though the visual part of my brain is being stimulated – that is to say I feel like I am trying to visualize something. Probably this kind of “picturing” things in our mind is a strategy for us to recognize things with our conscious mind when we think about them. The same with hearing things in our heads etc. I am not sure that this is all true, I’m not a brain expert, but it seems intuitive to me.

      Some people have a stronger visual sense of understanding (I know I am a very visual person!) so they actually try to picture things to understand them. As Amy said this is not necessarily true for everyone though! Our brains are really really amazing!!!!!!

    • Photo: Drew Rae

      Drew Rae answered on 23 Jun 2011:

      They have done some active MRI experiments that suggest that picturing things uses some but not all of the same processes as looking at things. So the same part of your brain lights up when you visualise a red square as when you look at a red square.

      This doesn’t explain how it works, it’s just some of the evidence that might help us one day.