Mental Health News: A recent study has claimed that people with ‘aphantasia’ or the incapability to visualize mental images are difficult to scare.
In this study, it was examined how people with aphantasia or ‘mind blindness’ responded to reading frightening scenarios, like being chased by a shark or falling off a cliff. The researchers were able to physically measure every participant’s fear response by monitoring how much the frightening scenes made the person sweat.
According to the findings, scary stories lost their element of fear when the readers were unable to visualize the scary scene in their minds. This finding suggested that imagery is likely to have a closer connection with emotions than previously thought. To test the role of visual imagery in fear, the researchers analyzed 46 study participants (22 with aphantasia, and 24 with imagery) in a dark room by attaching several electrodes to their skin. Skin is perceived as a better channel of electricity when a person feels strong emotions, like fear. The scientists then left the room and turned the light off, leaving the participants alone as a story started to appear on the screen in front of them.
As the plot slowly started taking a U-turn full of suspense elements, the researchers found that skin conductivity levels quickly started to grow for the ones who were able to visualize the story. However, the same was quite flat for people with aphantasia. In the second part of the study, participants were shown a series of scary images, and here, both parties were equally scared. Thus, the two sets of results suggested that while the condition does not reduce emotion in general, it is specific to participants reading scary stories. According to the study, nearly 2-5% of the population suffers from this condition. However, very little is known about it.
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Marcus Wicken, Rebecca Keogh, Joel Pearson. The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from fear-based imagery and aphantasia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2021; 288 (1946): 20210267 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.0267