Psychological Research

, Volume 75, Issue 4, pp 259–271

Integrating visual mental images and visual percepts: new evidence for depictive representations

  • Katie J. S. Lewis
  • Grégoire Borst
  • Stephen M. Kosslyn
Original Article


In two experiments, we used a temporal integration task to investigate visual mental images based on information in short-term memory or generated from information stored in long-term memory (LTM). We specifically asked whether the two sorts of images rely on depictive representations. If mental images rely on depictive representations, then it should be possible to combine mental images and visual percepts into a single representation that preserves the spatial layout of the display. To demonstrate this, participants were asked to generate mental images and then combine them with visual percepts of grids that were partially filled with different numbers of dots. Participants were asked to determine which cell remained empty when the two grids were combined. We contrasted predictions of propositional or verbal description theories with those of depictive theories, and report findings that support the claim that mental images—based on either short-term or LTM—depict information.


  1. Anderson, R. E., & Helstrup, T. (1993). Visual discovery in mind and on paper. Memory and Cognition, 21, 283–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Borst, G., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2008). Visual mental imagery and visual perception: Structural equivalence revealed by scanning processes. Memory and Cognition, 36, 849–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brockmole, J. R., Irwin, D. E., & Wang, R. F. (2003). The locus of spatial attention during the temporal integration of visual memories and percepts. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 510–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brockmole, J. R., Wang, R. F., & Irwin, D. E. (2002). Temporal integration between visual images and visual percepts. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 28, 315–334.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Craver-Lemley, C., Arterberry, M. E., & Reeves, A. (1999). “Illusory” illusory conjunctions: The conjoining of visual and imagined stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25, 1036–1049.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Di Lollo, V. (1980). Temporal integration in visual memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 109, 75–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eriksen, C. W., & Collins, J. F. (1967). Some temporal characteristics of visual pattern perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74, 476–484.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Finke, R. A., & Slayton, K. (1988). Explorations of creative visual synthesis in mental imagery. Memory and Cognition, 16, 252–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hollingworth, A., Hyun, J., & Zhang, W. (2005). The role of visual short-term memory in empty cell localization. Perception & Psychophysics, 67, 1332–1343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jiang, Y. (2004). Time window from visual images to visual short-term memory: Consolidation or integration? Experimental Psychology, 51, 45–51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jiang, Y., & Kumar, A. (2004). Visual short-term memory for two sequential arrays: One integrated representation or two separate representations? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11, 495–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jiang, Y., Kumar, A., & Vickery, T. J. (2005). Integrating visual arrays in visual-short term memory. Experimental Psychology, 52, 39–46.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kosslyn, S. M. (1975). Information representation in visual images. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 341–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kosslyn, S. M. (1980). Image and mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Kosslyn, S. M. (1994). Image and brain. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kosslyn, S. M., Ball, T. M., & Reiser, B. J. (1978). Visual images preserve metric spatial information: Evidence from studies of image scanning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 4, 47–60.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kosslyn, S. M., Cave, C. B., Provost, D., & Von Gierke, S. (1988). Sequential processes in image generation. Cognitive Psychology, 20, 319–343.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kosslyn, S. M., Reiser, M. J., Farah, M. J., & Fliegal, S. L. (1983). Generating visual images: Units and relations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 112, 278–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kosslyn, S. M., & Thompson, W. L. (2003). When is early visual cortex activated during visual mental imagery? Psychological Bulletin, 129, 723–746.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kosslyn, S. M., Thompson, W. L., & Ganis, G. (2006). The case for mental imagery. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Loftus, G. R., & Irwin, D. E. (1998). On the relations among different measures of visible and informational persistence. Cognitive Psychology, 35, 135–199.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Philips, W. A. (1974). On the distinction between sensory storage and short-term visual memory. Perception and Psychophysics, 16, 283–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pylyshyn, Z. (1973). What the mind’s eye tells the mind’s brain: A critique of mental imagery. Psychological Bulletin, 80, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (2002). Mental imagery: In search of a theory. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 25, 157–238.Google Scholar
  25. Pylyshyn, Z. (2003). Return of the mental image: Are there pictures in the brain? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 113–118.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sereno, M. I., Dale, A. M., Reppas, J. B., Kwong, K. K., Belliveau, J. W., Brady, B. R., et al. (1995). Borders of multiple visual areas in humans revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Science, 268, 889–893.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shepard, R. N., & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science, 171, 701–703.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Thompson, W. L., Kosslyn, S. M., Hoffman, M. S., & Van der Kooij, K. (2008). Inspecting visual mental images: Can people “see” implicit properties as easily in imagery and perception? Memory & Cognition, 36, 1024–1032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katie J. S. Lewis
    • 1
  • Grégoire Borst
    • 2
  • Stephen M. Kosslyn
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BathBathUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations