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Individual Differences In Imagery

IMAGES TO BE VIEWED BY INTROSPECTION.--The remainder of the description
of images will be easier to understand, for each of you can know just
what is meant in every case by appealing to your own mind. I beg of you
not to think that I am presenting something new and strange, a curiosity
connected with our thinking which has been discovered by scholars who
have delved more deeply into the matter than we can hope to do. Every
day--no, more than that, every hour and every moment--these images are
flitting through our minds, forming a large part of our stream of
consciousness. Let us see whether we can turn our attention within and
discover some of our images in their flight. Let us introspect.

I know of no better way to proceed than that adopted by Francis Galton
years ago, when he asked the English men of letters and science to think
of their breakfast tables, and then describe the images which appeared.
I am about to ask each one of you to do the same thing, but I want to
warn you beforehand that the images will not be so vivid as the sensory
experiences themselves. They will be much fainter and more vague, and
less clear and definite; they will be fleeting, and must be caught on
the wing. Often the image may fade entirely out, and the idea only be

recall the dining table as you last left it, and then answer questions
concerning it like the following:

Can I see clearly in my mind's eye the whole table as it stood spread
before me? Can I see all parts of it equally clearly? Do I get the snowy
white and gloss of the linen? The delicate coloring of the china, so
that I can see where the pink shades off into the white? The graceful
lines and curves of the dishes? The sheen of the silver? The brown of
the toast? The yellow of the cream? The rich red and dark green of the
bouquet of roses? The sparkle of the glassware?

Can I again hear the rattle of the dishes? The clink of the spoon
against the cup? The moving up of the chairs? The chatter of the voices,
each with its own peculiar pitch and quality? The twitter of a bird
outside the window? The tinkle of a distant bell? The chirp of a
neighborly cricket?

Can I taste clearly the milk? The coffee? The eggs? The bacon? The
rolls? The butter? The jelly? The fruit? Can I get the appetizing odor
of the coffee? Of the meat? The oranges and bananas? The perfume of the
lilac bush outside the door? The perfume from a handkerchief newly
treated to a spray of heliotrope?

Can I recall the touch of my fingers on the velvety peach? On the
smooth skin of an apple? On the fretted glassware? The feel of the fresh
linen? The contact of leather-covered or cane-seated chair? Of the
freshly donned garment? Can I get clearly the temperature of the hot
coffee in the mouth? Of the hot dish on the hand? Of the ice water? Of
the grateful coolness of the breeze wafted in through the open window?

Can I feel again the strain of muscle and joint in passing the heavy
dish? Can I feel the movement of the jaws in chewing the beefsteak? Of
the throat and lips in talking? Of the chest and diaphragm in laughing?
Of the muscles in sitting and rising? In hand and arm in using knife and
fork and spoon? Can I get again the sensation of pain which accompanied
biting on a tender tooth? From the shooting of a drop of acid from the
rind of the orange into the eye? The chance ache in the head? The
pleasant feeling connected with the exhilaration of a beautiful morning?
The feeling of perfect health? The pleasure connected with partaking of
a favorite food?

that some of you cannot get perfectly clear images in all these lines,
certainly not with equal facility; for the imagery from any one sense
varies greatly from person to person. A celebrated painter was able,
after placing his subject in a chair and looking at him attentively for
a few minutes, to dismiss the subject and paint a perfect likeness of
him from the visual image which recurred to the artist every time he
turned his eyes to the chair where the sitter had been placed. On the
other hand, a young lady, a student in my psychology class, tells me
that she is never able to recall the looks of her mother when she is
absent, even if the separation has been only for a few moments. She can
get an image of the form, with the color and cut of the dress, but never
the features. One person may be able to recall a large part of a concert
through his auditory imagery, and another almost none.

In general it may be said that the power, or at least the use, of
imagery decreases with age. The writer has made a somewhat extensive
study of the imagery of certain high-school students, college students,
and specialists in psychology averaging middle age. Almost without
exception it was found that clear and vivid images played a smaller part
in the thinking of the older group than of the younger. More or less
abstract ideas and concepts seemed to have taken the place of the
concrete imagery of earlier years.

IMAGERY TYPES.--Although there is some difference in our ability to use
imagery of different sensory types, probably there is less variation
here than has been supposed. Earlier pedagogical works spoke of the
visual type of mind, or the audile type, or the motor type, as if
the possession of one kind of imagery necessarily rendered a person
short in other types. Later studies have shown this view incorrect,
however. The person who has good images of one type is likely to excel
in all types, while one who is lacking in any one of the more important
types will probably be found short in all.[4] Most of us probably make
more use of visual and auditory than of other kinds of imagery, while
olfactory and gustatory images seem to play a minor role.

Next: The Function Of Images

Previous: How Past Experience Is Conserved

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