The relationship between visual perception and visual mental imagery: a reappraisal of the neuropsychological evidence

Paolo Bartolomeo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

123 Citations (Scopus)


Visual perception and visual mental imagery, the faculty whereby we can revisualise a visual item from memory, have often been regarded as cognitive functions subserved by common mechanisms. Thus, the leading cognitive model of visual mental imagery holds that visual perception and visual imagery share a number of mental operations, and rely upon common neural structures, including early visual cortices. In particular, a single visual buffer would be used "bottom-up" to display visual percepts and "top-down" to display internally generated images. The proposed neural substrate for this buffer consists of some cortical visual areas organised retinotopically, that is, the striate and extrastriate occipital areas. Empirical support for this model came from the report of brain-damaged patients showing an imagery deficit which parallels a perceptual impairment in the same cognitive domain. However, recent reports of patients showing double dissociations between perception and imagery abilities challenged the perception-imagery equivalence hypothesis from the functional point of view. From the anatomical point of view, the available evidence suggests that occipital damage is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce imagery deficits. On the other hand, extensive left temporal damage often accompanies imagery deficits for object form or colour. Thus, visual mental imagery abilities might require the integrity of brain areas related to vision, but at an higher level of integration than previously proposed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-378
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain Damage, Chronic
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Mental Recall
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Visual Pathways
  • Visual Perception


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