I have written before about discovering I had aphantasia, which is the inability to form mental images like 95 to 98 per cent of the population can.
Mostly, I have focussed on the challenges it presents, its disadvantages and my attempts to adapt to them.
The discovery of this condition is just a few years old, so very little is yet known, but that also means the field of research is wide open and there are new insights all the time.
Recently, a study published in the United Kingdom’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests there might be advantages.
Researchers measured the physiological response of aphantasics and a control group of people with visual imagery to scary stories by attaching electrodes to their skin. Skin becomes a better conductor of electricity when a person is feeling strong emotions, such as fear.
They found skin conductivity levels rapidly increased in the people who could visualize the stories but remained pretty much flatlined among aphantasics.
To ensure the result was not just a product of variable fear thresholds among the participants, the scientists also measured the physiological response to actual images and found no difference between the two groups.
So, not easy to spook is good.
The other good news is it does not correlate to general emotional dampening.
I have often struggled with empathy when I am told or when I am writing a story, which has caused me concern at times since lack of empathy is associated with sociopathy.
On the other hand, I know I have great emotional depth and empathy when I am actually involved in something or see things first hand. It’s just really difficult (almost impossible) for me to conjure without actual visual stimuli.
This study explains a lot.
The other really good aphantasia news recently for me is I have finally found a fellow aphantasic, who awesomely happens to be an extremely close friend. Name withheld to protect the innocent.
It may even be part of the reason we are so compatible since people tend to gravitate to other people who share our experience of the world.
It was revelatory and a huge relief for me to discover I had this condition. It has helped me to accept things I had previously considered deficiencies in myself compared to other people I knew. And once I knew about it, it was a great comfort to know I wasn’t alone.
Discovering someone very close to me, who shares that, is comfort times 10.