Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Although it is largely accepted that visual-mental imagery and perception draw on many of the same neural structures, the existence and nature of neural processing in the primary visual cortex (or area V1) during visual imagery remains controversial. We tested two general hypotheses: The first was that V1 is activated only when images with many details are formed and used, and the second was that V1 is activated whenever images are formed, even if they are not necessarily used to perform a task. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (ER-fMRI) to detect and characterize the activity in the calcarine sulcus (which contains the primary visual cortex) during single instances of mental imagery. The results revealed reproducible transient activity in this area whenever participants generated or evaluated a mental image. This transient activity was strongly enhanced when participants evaluated characteristics of objects, whether or not details actually needed to be extracted from the image to perform the task. These results show that visual imagery processing commonly involves the earliest stages of the visual system.