Theoretical Review

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 24-45

First online:

A perception theory in mind–body medicine: guided imagery and mindful meditation as cross-modal adaptation


A new theory of mind–body interaction in healing is proposed based on considerations from the field of perception. It is suggested that the combined effect of visual imagery and mindful meditation on physical healing is simply another example of cross-modal adaptation in perception, much like adaptation to prism-displaced vision. It is argued that psychological interventions produce a conflict between the perceptual modalities of the immune system and vision (or touch), which leads to change in the immune system in order to realign the modalities. It is argued that mind–body interactions do not exist because of higher-order cognitive thoughts or beliefs influencing the body, but instead result from ordinary interactions between lower-level perceptual modalities that function to detect when sensory systems have made an error. The theory helps explain why certain illnesses may be more amenable to mind–body interaction, such as autoimmune conditions in which a sensory system (the immune system) has made an error. It also renders sensible erroneous changes, such as those brought about by “faith healers,” as conflicts between modalities that are resolved in favor of the wrong modality. The present view provides one of very few psychological theories of how guided imagery and mindfulness meditation bring about positive physical change. Also discussed are issues of self versus non-self, pain, cancer, body schema, attention, consciousness, and, importantly, developing the concept that the immune system is a rightful perceptual modality. Recognizing mind–body healing as perceptual cross-modal adaptation implies that a century of cross-modal perception research is applicable to the immune system.


Psychoneuroimmunology Guided imagery Health Cognition Mindfulness meditation Cross-modal perception Mind–body Perception Prism adaptation Visual imagery