What is Mental Imagery?
The simplest definition or description of mental imagery is the process of ‘thinking in pictures’. It is also referred to as visualisation. A more formal definition would be: the inner representations (usually, but not always, in pictorial form) produced by the imagination. These representations might have external referents such as memories of lived experiences or they may be purely imaginary with no external referents. Put more simply, mental images are the productions of the imagination.
There is a rapidly expanding range of applications of mental imagery across several disciplines and guided imagery techniques are well-established methods in popular self-help literature. This interest is relatively recent. During the premodern period people believed that imagination played a role in causing illnesses and could be used as a method of healing. This view persisted in Western Europe until the Cartesian mindbody split became established as the dominant discourse during the 18th century. From then on the faculty of imagining was understood to be purely the contents of the mind and, therefore, in theory, it could no longer affect the physiological workings of the body. Furthermore, imagination was compared unfavourably with another mental faculty i.e. rational analytical reasoning. Consequently, it was regarded as an inferior type of mental processing that was immature and untrustworthy.