Visualizing and the Brain

Picture positive visual images in the mind’s eye, and repeat affirmations aloud after using the Relaxation Response (created by Dr. Benson). This can be especially helpful if the brain is accustomed to ponder negative thoughts or self-criticisms. (Benson, Herbert, MD., with Marg Stark. Timeless Healing, p. 70-74. NY: Scribner, 1996.)

Seeing with the mind’s eye (or visual imagery), contributes to essential cognitive processes such as episodic memory1, future event prospection2, visual working memory3, and dreaming4. For most people, visual imagery is an innate feature of many of our internal experiences and appears to play a critical role in supporting core cognitive processes. Some individuals, however, lack the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery altogether – a condition termed “aphantasia.” Recent research suggests that aphantasia is a condition defined by the absence of visual imagery, rather than a lack of metacognitive awareness of internal visual imagery. [Dawes, Alexei, J., et al. (Accessed 2020) A cognitive profile of multi-sensory imagery, memory, and dreaming in aphantasia.” Scientific Reports volume 10, 10022 (2020).]

Visualizing or visualization, forming images in the mind’s eye, is a process of actively creating a picture in your mind and giving it energy. Imagining something is essentially the same as perceiving it in the external world (e.g., picturing sucking a lemon has a direct effect on salivary glands). (Graham, Helen. Discover Color Therapy, p. 45-46. CA: Ulysses Press, 1998.)

Visualization is the process of attempting to instruct the body directly in healing by imagining and picturing internally (e.g., scrub out clogged arteries using brushes, see sharks eating cancer cells). Imagery is different from visualization. Imagery is less an attempt to “perceive” and more to create thoughts and generate feelings of warmth, caring, love, and being healthy. (Pearsall, Paul, PhD. The Heart’s Code, p154-155. NY: Random House, Inc., 1998.)

Imagination is another word for mental planning, or visualizing. Each cortical area creates predictions that are sent back down the hierarchy. To picture (imagine, visualize) something you turn your predictions around so they become inputs. If you close your eyes and imagine a hippopotamus, your visual cortex will become active, just as it would if you were actually looking t a hippo. Athletes may improve their performance by imagining and rehearsing the racecourse over and over in their head. (Hawkins, Jeff, with Sandra Blakeslee. On Intelligence, 200-201NY: Owl Books, 2004.)

Visualizing (internally mentally picturing) the healing process within the body can be helpful. It enhances communication between the mind and the body. (Sylvia, Claire, with William Novak. A Change of Heart, p. xi-xiii. NY: Little, Brown and Company, 1997.)

Begin with the body and good nutrition; explore visualizations, meditation, and affirmations for the mind; practice forgiveness, unconditional love, prayer/meditation, and connection with your Higher Power for the spirit. (Hay, Louise L. You Can Heal Your Life, p. 88-89. CA: Hay House, Inc., 1984.)

Without a capacity for visual imagination, people would barely be able to think. Even when asleep, visual representations of the universe remain active in the brain. Children do not have the neural capacity to easily separate fact from fantasy, however, and so form beliefs that blur the bovundaries of reality. For example, they easily believe their nightmares are real. Adults,kon the other hand, have advanced neural processes to help them analyze perceptual discrepancies. (Newberg, Andrew, MD. How God Changes Your Brain. pp 87-88. NY: Ballantine Books, 2009)

Visualizing (internal mental picturing) can help improve performance among musicians and athletes. PET scans show that brain areas involved in motor imagining (e.g., complex or skilled movement) surround the areas that are activated when the movement is actually made. (Restak, Richard, MD. The New Brain, p. 179PA: Rodale, 2003.)

In whole-brain learning, imaging is seen as the basis for comprehension. Learners are encouraged to visualize, draw, and use drama as they develop new ideas, in order to retain them. (On Purpose Associates. "Whole Brain Teaching."

There are different types of meditation, each of which uses a different mental strategy (e.g., concentration, mindfulness, and visualization) and has specific impacts on one's mental state. Visualization activates centers in the spatial visual cortex; concentration involves the attention circuitry in the prefrontal cortex (but not the visual area). A new scientific field, contemplative neuroscience, has begun mapping how different types engage the brain and what benefits are provided. (Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights. pp 37-39. MA: More Than Sound, 2011)

Meditation and visualization are effective in helping you to maintain a healthy brain.(Newberg, Andrew, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman. How God Changes Your Brain—Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. pp 151-165. NY: Ballantine Books, 2009.)

Mental rehearsal activates the same neural brain circuitry as does the real activity. (Goleman, Daniel. The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights. pp 68-70. MA: More Than Sound, 2011)

EEG studies: it was virtually impossible to tell by looking at EEG output whether individuals were listening to or just imagining music. The brain wave activity was virtually identical. At least for music, it appears that the same brain areas may be involved and utilized for recalling as for perceiving. (Janata, pp. Electrophysiological studies of auditory contexts. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences of Engineering. University of Oregon, 1997. Janata, Petr. The neural architecture of music-evoked autobiographical memories. Cerebral Cortex, 19, 2579-2594. 2009.

Refer to Music and the Brain for additional information.

The process of visualizing sends messages to the brain from the person’s memory or imagination. This strategy, a powerful mind exercise, can be used to counteract negativity. (Benson, Herbert, MD., with Marg Stark. Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, p. 143-144, 275-276. NY: Scribner, 1996.)

Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas pictured himself falling and thus gave his brain a new path to follow. (He fell to his death several months later.) Quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: The ancestor of every action is a thought. (Robbins, Anthony. Unlimited Power, p. 46-50. NY: Fireside, 1986.)

The unconscious mind responds well to suggestion. Visualizing can be enhanced by making the most of vision itself (e.g., really “looking at” and paying attention). Visualizing can aid dream recall. (Fontana, David, PhD. Teach Yourself to Dream, p. 40-54San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1997.)

Without a defined target the mind’s energy is wasted. You give your brain a clear picture to follow when you have identified your desired outcome. The brain needs this to be effective. When you know your outcome, you give your brain a clear picture of which kinds of information being received by the nervous system need high priority. You give it the clear messages it needs to be effective…. if it doesn’t have a defined target, the mind’s energy is squandered. (Robbins, Anthony. Unlimited Power, p. 200-201. NY: Fireside, 1986.)

Combine visual and mental rehearsal with physical rehearsal and practice in preparation for an event. Visualization, mental practice, has been shown to be effective in improving motor skills, although there is no evidence that this improves cognitive and behavioral skills. Close your eyes and internally stimulate the performance in your mind. Accompany this visualization with approximate physical movements. (Howard, Pierce J., PhD. The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, p. 492GA: Bard Press, 1994, 2000.)

Many athletes, musicians, and other performers mentally rehearse important actions (visualize) as they prepare for their events. (Newberg, Andrew, MD, et al. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, 94-95NY: Ballantine Books, 2001.)

Visualization is often utilized by athletes in their training (e.g., internally picture an ideal performance over and over). When they actually perform, their mind and body follow these pre-established configurations. (Benson, Herbert, MD., with Marg Stark. Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, p. 275-277. NY: Scribner, 1996.)

The right hemisphere is strengthened by visualization exercises. When you also engage the left hemisphere (e.g., verbal language-based exercises), the integration between the two cerebral hemispheres is enhanced. (Restak, Richard, MD. Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot, p. 71-73NY: Harmony Books, 2001.)

Cleveland Clinic Foundation study: a muscle can be strengthened just by thinking about exercising it. For 12 weeks (five minutes a day, five days per week) a team of 30 healthy young adults imagined moving either the muscle of their little finger or of their elbow flexor. Compared to a control group – that did no imaginary exercises and showed no strength gains – the little-finger group increased their pinky muscle strength by 35%. The other group increased elbow strength by 13.4%. (Franklin Institute Article. "Turn on Your Brain.

The right brain controls the abilities to visualize images and the realization of those images physically. Nearly all-successful people, regardless of their field of expertise, demonstrate the right brain ability of distinct image visualization. (Loh, Andrew. Brain Development Center.

Visualization, the ability to recall and construct visual images within the mind, is a basic thinking mode. (Williams, Linda. Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind, 108-109. CA: Touchstone Books: 1986.)

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