Visual imagery and false memory for pictures: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study in healthy participants

Christian Stephan-Otto, Sara Siddi, Carl Senior, Daniel Muñoz-Samons, Susana Ochoa, Ana María Sánchez-Laforga, Gildas Brébion*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Visual mental imagery might be critical in the ability to discriminate imagined from perceived pictures. Our aim was to investigate the neural bases of this specific type of reality-monitoring process in individuals with high visual imagery abilities.

METHODS: A reality-monitoring task was administered to twenty-six healthy participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging. During the encoding phase, 45 words designating common items, and 45 pictures of other common items, were presented in random order. During the recall phase, participants were required to remember whether a picture of the item had been presented, or only a word. Two subgroups of participants with a propensity for high vs. low visual imagery were contrasted.

RESULTS: Activation of the amygdala, left inferior occipital gyrus, insula, and precuneus were observed when high visual imagers encoded words later remembered as pictures. At the recall phase, these same participants activated the middle frontal gyrus and inferior and superior parietal lobes when erroneously remembering pictures.

CONCLUSIONS: The formation of visual mental images might activate visual brain areas as well as structures involved in emotional processing. High visual imagers demonstrate increased activation of a fronto-parietal source-monitoring network that enables distinction between imagined and perceived pictures.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0169551
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017 Stephan-Otto et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

All neuroimaging data files are available from the database (accession number ds000203). The access link is


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