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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.