There are three types of mental images – things we have seen before and can recall, things we want to create and images that just come to us in a sort of knowing. Let me explain this in more detail.
- Things you have seen before are called Visual Recall or visual memory. Visual recall enables us to recognise people we know, objects, locations, events, experiences and so much more. This activity in your brain is centered in the occipital lobe. In addition, there is an area on the edge of the occipital lobe called the Word Form Area, where we hold words we have seen before, to enable us to achieve word recognition in less than 150msecs (less than a heartbeat), once we have seen the word once or twice.
Visual Constructs are the things we want to create and the font of imagination. These are the pictures you dream up in your head; the things you would like to do, such as creating imaginary friends or a new dinosaur, telling stories, seeing how jigsaw puzzle pieces fit, planning the best moves in chess, picturing success in sports or just being able to learn to walk again after an injury. Note, that people with exceptional visual recall can be slightly apprehensive about visual constructs, as they don’t have a ready-made picture for a new experience.
Archie had been to the same shoe shop several times and got used to the experience. When Archie’s mum discovered it had closed down, she told Archie that they would need to go to a new one. Terror came across his face, and a meltdown took over. It seems that these EPIC kids have such great mental images of the past that the future without solid pictures terrifies them. She then got together some pictures of the new shop from the inside and the outside and introduced them before going on a trip.
I remember asking a young adult how she would go about redecorating her room. She then gave me the following brilliant description. I would think of the room, fade out all the furniture and the coloured walls – “so old school now,” she said. Then she imagined, a swatch of carpet samples and wood flooring. She went through the possibilities and selected the perfect flooring. She did the same with the walls, choosing from an imaginary colour palette; some to be painted and one to be wallpapered. Then she rolled in the furniture and furnishings that appealed to her. She could change things around and eventually picture a perfect outcome, and she could imagine walking into the room and feeling comfortable and proud of her achievements. She did all of this as a cascade of mental images in seconds; a fabulous skill for an interior designer or window dresser.
Jimmy came to me with several challenges in school; one was that he couldn’t concentrate during science lessons. I enquired about the difference between a science lesson and a maths lesson, which he adored. The usual “I dunno” was the response. I said that I knew he had good mental images and asked what he saw in a science lesson. “Oh,” he said sheepishly, “I am playing on a PlayStation game in my head.” “Wow that’s clever,” was my response. “How long does it last?” I asked. “About 20 minutes,” was his reply. “Tell me, how big is the television screen you are running it on?” “That would be a 36-inch flat-screen TV,” he replied with great pride. “And can you see the teacher past the TV set?” I enquired, “Not really” was his answer. In order to clarify I checked, “You are playing a PlayStation game on a huge TV set right in front of you during science lessons. And when the teacher asks you a question you haven’t got a clue as to what she was talking about.” “I guess” was his answer. “Do you do the same in maths lessons?” “Well, the TV is smaller, so I can hear the teacher and I do calculations at the same time. This short intervention provided many answers regarding his behaviour, and he realised that he had a conscious choice as to whether he engaged with the class.
Finally, there are those pictures that just come to your mind. Some people call these psychic pictures; they are things you just know, and you don’t understand why, especially when it’s about someone you are close to, or “tuned in to,” picking up on their thoughts. These pictures feed understanding of another person, and can be a great skill as long as they don’t overwhelm a sensitive person. Students need to learn how to control them to avoid creating a feeling of being unsafe; be able to turn them off, dispose of unpleasant ones, sort excess information, filter them and stop overload. The clarity of just knowing can we such a relief, when you are quiet and tuned in your intuition. Storytelling and guided imagery encourage an individual’s thoughts, urging him to make his own connections.
Freddy knew when his mum picked him up from school whether or not she was happy. If she was stressed, she would be ungrounded and talking quickly. Freddy could pick up on his mother’s mood before he even saw her. A fantastic skill, for an 8-year-old, but if mum was unhappy, he would often be unhappy too.
All of these types of pictures can be still or moving like a video, reflecting the past or imagining the future.
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The Elephants in the Classroom: using every student’s natural power of mental Imagery to enhance learning: Neurodiversity through the lens of mental Imagery and
Bridges to Success – How to transform Learning Difficulties
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