ADHD: Can Aphantasia supercharge your gut feeling?

Having no Mind’s Eye, also known as Aphantasia, I have to rely heavily on my intuition instead. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, intuition is ‘‘the ability to understand or know something immediately, without conscious reasoning.’’, most of us call that – gut feeling. I don’t know about you, but hey that sounds pretty much like me, when I’m off my meds … Is there a connection …


Intuition, or gut feeling explained …


Fulford et al., 2018

Aphantasia – when the Mind’s Eye goes blind …

[…]Aphantasia, i.e., the congenital inability to experience voluntary mental imagery, offers a new model for studying the functional role of mental imagery in (visual) cognition. However, until now, there have been no studies investigating whether aphantasia can be linked to specific impairments in cognitive functioning. Here, we assess visual working memory performance in an aphantasic individual. We find that she performs significantly worse than controls on the most difficult (i.e., requiring the highest degree of precision) visual working memory trials. Surprisingly, her performance on a task designed to involve mental imagery did not differ from controls’, although she lacked metacognitive insight into her performance. Together, these results indicate that although a lack of mental imagery can be compensated for under some conditions, mental imagery has a functional role in other areas of visual cognition, one of which is high-precision working memory.[…] (Jacobs et al., 2018)


Linking Aphantasia to ADHD

A possible link between ADHD and Aphantasia

Understanding Aphantasia

A quick guide to Aphantasia
(BTW: I was 45 before I realized that I had Aphantasia …)

Linking Aphantasia to Gut Feeling

So intuition is when you just know, that you know, without knowing why or how you know, you just do!? I don’t know about you, but I can easily picture myself (hypothetically speaking, since I got Aphantasia) two children arguing over some silly matter, and one them going; “Well, I don’t care if you don’t believe me, I know that I’m right!”.

Scientific American (2018)

The neuroanatomy

Then I got to fall down a Rabbit Hole on this gut feeling stuff, and I’ve done a lot of digging, and it is fascinating! It turns out that all of your bodily sensations are constantly and automatically being collected by your PNS and then sent up the CNS to the Limbic System, where it is analyzed, prioritized and categorized.

Anatomical and Functional diagrams of the Human Nervous System

The Limbic System is where our ‘fight or flight’ reflex is located and it turns out that the autonomic response to a stimulus coming from both inside and outside our body, is handled by an ‘auto-pilot’ that is alert and watching everything, both within and outside our body, 24hx7d.


The neuropsychology

It takes all the incoming data and ‘guesstimate’ what is going on, and it does so by looking through our memories to see if it can match this sensation (which is based on a number of sensory stimuli from various areas of our body, more on that later) to somehting we’ve seen or felt before.

Scientific American (2018)

If it find something that matches, it repeats the last action taken, since that kept us alive back then, hopefully it will do so this time around too. If it cannot find any match, it passes the data further on up the chain of command to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

This lecture by the brilliant Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga explains how the human mind reasons

The neurophysiology

The PFC is where the magic happens. Not only is it where our Mind’s Orchestra Director lives, also called the Executive Functions, but it is also where our Mind’s Eye live, and where our Inner Voice lives.

In order for us to make a conscious decision on how to respond to the data received from the Limbic System, the PFC has to analyze, categorize, create hindsight, simulate, create forethought, and then make a decision on what response will get us the most reward, using the least amount of energy, and still benefitting our long-term goals and survival.

Scientific American (2018)

The deficits

Hindsight is when we use our past experiences to guide our forethought, our predictions of possible future outcomes, and all that is heavily dependent on the Mind’s Eye, since all modalities are linked to an image, which then is the anchoring point for attaching all the other sensory data to that particular experience (past recalled or future predicted).

Watkins, 2017

The impairments

Aphantasia kinda mess that up a bit … Since I cannot recall any images from my memory, I cannot reconstruct any possible future outcomes (forethoughts), since I am unable to recall my (visual) experiences and therefore I do not have any hindsight either. In short, I am unable to ‘visualize’ anything within my Mind’s Eye, its just black …

[…]Predicting the effects of actions is a very frequent activity in everyday life. For instance, a person who is driving a car and sees that somebody is crossing the street up ahead will usually predict whether the person will have crossed before the car reaches him or her, in order to decide whether it is necessary to hit the brakes. Similarly, people watching a soccer game willingly predict whether a kick will hit the goal or not.[…] (Knoblich et al., 2001)

Since all human social contact requires that you are able to perform social reciprocity, it is very important to keep tabs on who did what for you, and who did you do something for yourself back in the day.

Scientific American (2018)

The experiences

Since I can only remember what kinda feeling, that past experience have meant to me, I live in a ‘mental imaginary vacuum’ where I can recognize people I know, when I meet them, but am completely unable to ‘picture them’ or even describe how they look, when they are out of my sight.

Scientific American (2018)

This makes life a bit challenging sometimes, and I do feel a little ‘cheated’ since I can’t fantasies (nor sexual), imagine, visualize or predict future consequences of current actions, very well, “I apologize” has becone a pretty standard word in my everyday vocabulary.


The benefits

But what I do have, in abundance, is intution. I can walk into a room and take stock of everyones emotional states (not actually, but metaphorically, I’m not claiming to be a psychic) by listening to my gut feeling, when I ‘process’ that person in front of me.

I’ve wondered for a long time how that could be, and when I read the article by Volz et al., I realized that it was my interoceptive, exteroceptive and proprioceptive sensory system, working in conjuction with my Limbic system that instructed the PFC on what feelings, sensations and emotions, my body was communicating up the chain.

Volz et al, 2017

The superpowers

That gut feeling have now become my way of trying to predict the future consequences of a current action, by matching those experienced sensory information stored in my memory, and by recall of those, my body reconstructs my gut feeling and that is what is sent to the PFC for further decision making.

Flowchart showing how Gut Feeling ‘looks’ (Volz et al., 2017)

Conclusion

This is a very good example on how the human brain wil change it’s physical neural networks to accommodate shortcomings experienced in some other part of the body or brain, like when blind people hear better or deaf people see better, my mind simply ‘feels better’ ergo I’m relying on my gut feeling – all day – everyday.


References

Volz KG, von Cramon DY., (2006), What neuroscience can tell about intuitive processes in the context of perceptual discovery,  J Cogn Neurosci. 2006 Dec;18(12):2077-87. PMID: 17129192,DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2006.18.12.2077

Watkins, Nicholas. (2017). (A)phantasia and severely deficient autobiographical memory: Scientific and personal perspectives. Cortex. 105. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.010

Keogh R, Pearson J, (2018), The blind mind: No sensory visual imagery in aphantasia, Cortex, Volume 105, 2018, Pages 53-60,
ISSN 0010-9452,
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.012

Christianne Jacobs, Dietrich S. Schwarzkopf, Juha Silvanto, (2018), Visual working memory performance in aphantasia, Cortex, Volume 105, 2018, Pages 61-73, ISSN 0010-9452,
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.014

Knoblich, G., & Flach, R. (2001). Predicting the Effects of Actions: Interactions of Perception and Action. Psychological Science, 12(6), 467–472.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9280.00387

Most comprehensive scientific article:
Fulford J, Milton F, Salas D, Smith A, Simler A, Winlove C, Zeman A., (2018), The neural correlates of visual imagery vividness – An fMRI study and literature review., Cortex. 2018 Aug;105:26-40. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.09.014. Epub 2017 Oct 3. PMID: 29079342
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.09.014