Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders

Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.
Clinical psychology review (Impact Factor: 7.18). 04/2010; 30(3):349-62. DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.001
Source: PubMed


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.

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    • "There is no evidence that images lead to greater categorical retrieval in the depressed patients. Taken together with the findings that depressed patients produced faster retrieval times to negative than positive cues, this provides no support for the notion that negative images might encourage functional avoidance in the depressed patients due to the greater emotional activation associated with images (Holmes & Mathews, 2010). This is perhaps not surprising given that words and images were matched for valence and arousal ratings. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Depressed individuals have been consistently shown to exhibit problems in accessing specific memories of events from their past and instead tend to retrieve categorical summaries of events. The majority of studies examining autobiographical memory changes associated with psychopathology have tended to use word cues, but only one study to date has used images (with PTSD patients). Objective: to determine if using images to cue autobiographical memories would reduce the memory specificity deficit exhibited by patients with depression in comparison to healthy controls. Methods: Twenty-five clinically depressed patients and twenty-five healthy controls were assessed on two versions of the autobiographical memory test; cued with emotional words and images. Results: Depressed patients retrieved significantly fewer specific memories, and a greater number of categorical, than did the controls. Controls retrieved a greater proportion of specific memories to images compared to words, whereas depressed patients retrieved a similar proportion of specific memories to both images and words. Limitations: no information about the presence and severity of past trauma was collected. Conclusions: results suggest that the overgeneral memory style in depression generalises from verbal to pictorial cues. This is important because retrieval to images may provide a more ecologically valid test of everyday memory experiences than word-cued retrieval..
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
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    • "In addition to PTSD, intrusive and involuntary images have also been reported by patients suffering from agoraphobia, social phobia, specific phobias, obsessive– compulsive disorder, health anxiety and body dysmorphic disorders, etc. (Holmes & Mathews, 2010). Similar to the intrusive memories in PTSD, intrusive images in anxiety disorders are often linked to memories of adverse events Mental imagery and bipolar disorders: Introducing scope for psychological treatment development? "

    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · International Journal of Social Psychiatry
    • "It has been suggested that depression's impact on everyday functioning in schizophrenia may be through its effect on anticipatory pleasure, leading to changes in motivation (Harvey, 2011). This has parallels in the depression literature, in which impairments in positive prospective imagery are proposed to link with reduced perceived likelihood, lower believability and diminished action in response to positive images (Holmes, Lang, Moulds & Steele, 2008;Holmes & Mathews, 2010). Negative symptoms and neuropsychological impairments may be important additional factors in the context of psychosis. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Theoretical models of depression and bipolar disorder emphasise the importance of positive mental imagery in mood and behaviour. Distressing, intrusive images are common in psychosis; however, little is known about positive imagery experiences or their association with clinical symptoms. The aim of the current study was to examine the phenomenology of positive imagery in early psychosis and the relationship between the characteristics of positive, future-oriented imagery and symptom severity. Method: Characteristics, thematic content and appraisals of recent self-reported images were examined in 31 people with early psychosis. The vividness and perceived likelihood of deliberately generated, future-oriented images were investigated in relation to clinical symptoms. Results: Eighty-four percent of participants reported experiencing a recent positive image. Themes included the achievement of personal goals, spending enjoyable time with peers and family, loving, intimate relationships and escape from current circumstances. The vividness and perceived likelihood of generated prospective imagery were negatively correlated with levels of depression and social anxiety. Conclusions: The relationship between emotional problems and the ability to imagine positive, future events may have implications for motivation, mood and goal-directed behaviour in psychosis. Everyday experiences of positive imagery may represent the simulation of future goals, attempts to cope or avoid aversive experiences or idealised fantasy.
    No preview · Article · Nov 2015 · Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy
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