Most of us have been told something about the potential benefits of visualizing an outcome, and I know from working with many athletes, chess players, dancers and even surgeons, that most are very good at visualizing exactly what they want and where they are going to be.
I have recently talked about the ways in which encoding of memory for faces and the crucial role of memory in creating images of the future.
There is some important confirmatory research from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College in London. A study led by Dr Eleanor Maguire has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It involved five participants with dense amnesia caused by damage to the hippocampus on both sides of the brain.
The researchers asked the participants – and a control group without amnesia – to imagine several future scenarios, such as visiting a beach, a museum and a castle, and then to describe what the experience would be like. They then analyzed the subjects' comments sentence by sentence, scoring each statement based on whether it involved references to spatial relationships, emotions or specific objects.
All but one of the people with amnesia were worse at imagining future events than people with normal memory. Their visualizations of future events were more likely to be disorganized and lacking in emotion.
Here is a quotation from one of the subjects:"It's not very real. It's just not happening. My imagination isn't…well, I'm not imagining it, let's put it that way."
The hippocampus does not simply relive past experiences, it also supports our ability to imagine any kind of experience including possible future events.
This is yet more evidence against the idea that memory works like a kind of video camera, passively recording your life. It is a far more dynamic process that include your own beliefs, emotions and expectations.
“A rock-pile ceases to be a rock-pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
--Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French Aviator and Writer, 1900-1944)
“All acts performed in the world begin in the imagination.”
--Barbara Grizzuti Harrison (Italian-America Journalist, Essayist and Author, 1934-2002)
“I visualize things in my mind before I have to do them. It’s like having a mental workshop.”
--Jack Youngblood (American Football Player and Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1950-)