Mental imagery has been considered relevant to psychopathology due to its supposed special relationship with emotion, although evidence for this assumption has been conspicuously lacking. The present review is divided into four main sections: (1) First, we review evidence that imagery can evoke emotion in at least three ways: a direct influence on emotional systems in the brain that are responsive to sensory signals; overlap between processes involved in mental imagery and perception which can lead to responding "as if" to real emotion-arousing events; and the capacity of images to make contact with memories for emotional episodes in the past. (2) Second, we describe new evidence confirming that imagery does indeed evoke greater emotional responses than verbal representation, although the extent of emotional response depends on the image perspective adopted. (3) Third, a heuristic model is presented that contrasts the generation of language-based representations with imagery and offers an account of their differing effects on emotion, beliefs and behavior. (4) Finally, based on the foregoing review, we discuss the role of imagery in maintaining emotional disorders, and its uses in psychological treatment.
"In most of these studies, the participants listened to acoustically presented positive and negative scenarios and were instructed either to form a mental image of the event (imagery condition) or to focus on the content and meaning of the respective sentences (verbal condition). Due to this powerful emotional impact of imagery, the link between mental images and affective disorders has attracted increased research interest (Holmes & Mathews, 2010). Especially in depression, mental images might be a critical factor in amplifying and maintaining negative feelings (Holmes, Lang, & Deeprose, 2009). "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Mental imagery can critically influence our emotional state. In contrast to commonly used explicit measures, implicit measures are promising for objectively assessing automatic emotional processes beyond deliberate control. In two studies with non-clinical samples, we tested the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP) to measure implicit affect induced by mental imagery. In a first study (N = 145), the implicit measure showed that mental imagery elicits significantly stronger negative affect than verbally processed stimuli (F(1, 144) = 3.94, p≤.05, ƞ2p = .03). In Study 2 (N = 71), we refined the implicit measure and found that mental images can induce implicit affective reactions at least as strong as pictures. Moreover, implicit affect after positive imagery was negatively related to depressive symptoms (r = -.26, p<.05) and explained incremental variance in depressive symptoms beyond explicitly assessed affect. Our studies suggest that the AMP represents a promising measure of implicit affect induced by mental images.
"In addition, retrieval of vivid, sensory-rich details from memory can activate many of the same neural regions recruited during actual perception (Ganis et al., 2004) and can cause a person to respond as if the trauma is actually happening again (i.e. 'flashbacks; Holmes and Mathews, 2010). At present there is a paucity of research regarding the distinct processes involved in involuntary and declarative emotional memories, as stipulated by the 'dual representation' model of emotional memory formation (e.g. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Different lines of research suggest that the consolidation of emotional memories is influenced by (a) endogenous levels of sex hormones, and (b) individual differences in the capacity to use vivid mental imagery. No studies to date have investigated how these factors may interact to influence declarative emotional memories. This study examined the interacting influence of progesterone and mental imagery strength on emotional memory consolidation. Twenty-four men, 20 women from the low progesterone (follicular) menstrual phase, and 20 women from the high progesterone (mid-luteal) phase of the cycle were assessed using an objective performance-based measure of mental imagery strength, and then shown a series of aversive and neutral images. Half of the images were accompanied by instructions to process sensory features, and the remaining half to process the conceptual characteristics of the images. Two days later, all participants returned for a surprise free recall memory test. The interaction of progesterone and mental imagery strength significantly predicted recall of visually processed, but not verbally processed, negative images. These data suggest that mental imagery strength may be one mechanism underlying the documented association between endogenous progesterone and enhanced emotional memory performance in the literature.
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