PERCEPT – Mental Imagery and Mental Health

The research by Emily Holmes is underpinned by a core interest in mental health science, and the translation of basic findings to create innovations to improve psychological treatments. It combines perspectives from clinical and experimental psychology, taking an interdisciplinary approach including psychology, psychiatry, cognitive science, neuroscience, art and so forth.

Mental imagery is implicated across psychological disorders from intrusive memories of past trauma, to flashforwards to the future in bipolar disorder. Mental imagery involves ‘seeing in the mind’s eye’, ‘hearing in the mind’s ear’ et cetera and has a more powerful impact on emotion than its verbal counterpart (thinking in words). It therefore presents exciting opportunities for transdiagnostic mental health treatment innovation focused on sensory-perceptual representations (imagery).

The current focus is on reducing the occurrence of intrusive memories after traumatic events. Research methodologies bridge lab with clinic in developing an “Imagery competing task intervention (ICTI).

What is Mental Imagery?

Mental imagery is fascinating in its own right in terms of better understanding the science of mental life. We think in the form of either words or mental imagery, though know less about the latter. Mental imagery is like weak perception (without the percept) recruiting similar neural circuitry. Imagining daffodils, as Wordsworth wrote, “that flash upon that inwards eye” brings solace. Negative events flashing into mind, like intrusive memories of trauma, bring overwhelming emotions.  Allowing time travel, imagery can "flash-forwards" to suicide. By amplifying emotion and behaviour, imagery drives psychopathology across mental disorders. Directly asking patients about mental imagery benefits assessment. Being curious about mental imagery enriches the science of mental life, and may also open doors clinically.

Holmes, E. A. & Ågren, T. (2020). "100 words on mental imagery – 100 words"The British Journal of Psychiatry, 216(4), 196-196.

View Holmes' publications on Google Scholar.

Last modified: 2024-02-05