Felipe De Brigard: Unweaving imagination

Imagination is not a single ability or process. What we call “imagination” refers to many different cognitive tasks, and each one of these draws resources from multiple cognitive systems. Sometimes we use imagination to conceive of possible social situations, so our ability to empathize both guides and constrain us. Other times imagination means considering alternative ways our life could have been, a process that depends on our autobiographical memory. And sometimes imagination is simply visualization, which is limited by our sensory experiences and short-term memory. Thinking about imagination as a unitary faculty is, surprisingly, wrong.

Dr. Felipe De Brigard is a graduate of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory Lab of Dr. Kelly Giovanello. He is starting postdoctorate work at the Schacter Memory Lab at Harvard. His research focuses on the nature of memory and its relations to other cognitive faculties, in particular perception, imagination, attention and consciousness. He was one of the first PsychTalk guests. This submission is in response to our blog party asking, What surprising thing have you learned about human nature?