The assumption of universal visualization

When I first tell people I have aphantasia, I often get questions like: “Can you picture your memories? What about dreams?”

My response is always the same. If the question is “Do you picture…” the answer will always be no. These questions hint at a subtle yet widespread assumption that everyone visualizes

Why do we so often assume that our mental experiences are universal? It’s a natural human tendency to project our own ways of thinking and perceiving onto others.

In the case of visualization, many people naturally assume that since they can see images in their mind’s eye, so can everyone else. But as many of you know, this isn’t the case.

For those of us with aphantasia, like myself, visualization is not part of our mental landscape. We don’t experience mental images, whether it be memories, dreams*, or thoughts.

This difference in cognitive processing is more common than many realize, impacting ~4% of the global population, yet it often remains invisible in everyday conversations, education, and even in how we approach creativity and problem-solving.

Discovering aphantasia opens our eyes to the incredible diversity of the human mind. Recognizing that not everyone visualizes reminds us of the many ways people think, remember, and create. It challenges us to think more broadly about cognitive abilities and experiences.

I invite you to reflect on this assumption in your own life. How has it influenced your understanding of aphantasia?

* Some aphantasics do report visualizing while dreaming. Yet another interesting variation in our complex cognitive experience.