A functional MRI study of mental image generation.

D’Esposito, Detre JA, Aguirre GK, Stallcup M, Alsop D, Tippet LJ, Farah MJ.  1997.  A functional MRI study of mental image generation., 1997 May. Neuropsychologia. 35(5):725-730.


The neural substrates of mental image generation were investigated with functional MRI. Subjects listened to words under two different instructional conditions: to generate visual mental images of the words’ referents, or to simply listen to each word and wait for the next word. Analyses were performed which directly compared the regional brain activity during each condition, with the goal of discovering whether mental image generation engages modality-specific visual areas, whether it engages primary visual cortex, and whether it recruits the left hemisphere to a greater extent than the right. Results revealed that visual association cortex, and not primary visual cortex, was engaged during the mental image generation condition. Left inferior temporal lobe (Brodmann’s area 37) was the most reliably and robustly activated area across subjects, had activity which extended superiorly into occipital association cortex (area 19). The results of this experiment support the hypothesis that visual mental imagery is a function of visual association cortex, and that image generation is asymmetrically localized to the left.



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