Psychological Science 2018, (3) 520-525 DOI:     ISSN: 0412-1961 CN: 21-1139/TG

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Mental imagery
Cognitive process
LI Xiao-Mei
LI Hai-Feng
Article by Li,X.M
Article by Li,H.F

The Relationships between Mental Imagery, Perception and Memory from the Perspectives of Representation and Cognitive Process


Mental imagery refers to a perception-like representation that formed in the brain when things are not in sight. Currently, a part of studies which investigate the relationship between mental imagery, perception and memory have indicated that mental imagery, perception and memory can activate a strikingly overlapping brain regions, which shows that they may share the similar representation. But others have discovered that there are certain differences between them, especially in the cognitive process. To provide valuable suggestions for further research, this review discusses the relationship among mental imagery, perception and memory from the perspectives of representation and cognitive process. Firstly, mental imagery, perception and memory share similar representation. On the one hand, information acquires from perception contributes to form the mental imagery. On the other hand, prior experience retrieved from long-term memory is a source of mental imagery. Perception processes external information as a form of representation, and information retrieved from long-term memory is temporarily stored in the working memory as a form of representation. Therefore, the generation of mental imagery relies on processing of representation. This viewpoint has supported by some behavioral experiments. For example, participants scanned the appointed targets at the same rate in both mental imagery task and perceptual task, the eye movement patterns of the fixation had no significant difference between these tasks; mental imagery task and working memory task could be disturbed by the same type of interference, such as structured dynamic visual noise or background luminance variation. Evidences from cognitive neurosciences also have revealed that mental imagery, perception and memory tasks from the same sensory modality can activate a wide range of same brain regions. For instance, visual mental imagery, visual perception and visual memory can activate some regions of the primary sensory cortex, parietal lobe, occipital and frontal cortex. These results confirm that they share similar representation. Secondly, there are still some differences between mental imagery, perception and memory from the perspective of cognitive process. Mental imagery encodes information in a more abstract way, relies more on the prior experience and has weaker ability to deal with the details than perception. While compared with short-term memory, mental imagery is more susceptible to the single-pulse TMS in the early stage of formation. In addition, it relies less on the hippocampus than long-term memory. In summary, mental imagery, perception and memory can be regarded as an integrated, interrelated and interactional cognitive system. The information obtained from perception and memory can affect the generation of mental imagery. Besides, after it is formed, mental imagery can serve not only as a priming cue to guide attention toward the represented object and to promote the perception of that object, but also as a memory cue to help people recall imagery-related information, or to interfere with the memory retrieval phase, which results in false memory or distortion of traumatic events. Further studies should pay more attention to the relationship between mental imagery and the top-down processing of perception. Simultaneously, to solve the inconsistent results of the relationship between mental imagery and working memory, different types (e.g., objective, spatial, or verbal) and different sources (perception or memory) of mental imagery and working memory tasks should be well-designed. Besides, how large is the capacity of mental imagery? And how perception and memory affect the mental imagery capacity? What’s the mechanism of the interconnection between mental imagery, perception and memory? Does working memory play a mediating role in this interrelation? Explorations on these questions will clarify the relationship among mental imagery, perception, and memory.

Keywords Mental imagery   Perception   Memory   Representation   Cognitive process  
Received 2017-04-20 Revised 2018-01-26 Online: 2018-05-20 
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