Eye movements during visual imagery and perception show spatial correspondence but have unique temporal signatures

Gurtner, Lilla M.; Hartmann, Matthias; Mast, Fred W. (2021). Eye movements during visual imagery and perception show spatial correspondence but have unique temporal signatures. Cognition, 210, p. 104597. Elsevier 10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104597

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Eye fixation patterns during mental imagery are similar to those during perception of the same picture, suggesting that oculomotor mechanisms play a role in mental imagery (i.e., the “looking at nothing” effect). Previous research has focused on the spatial similarities of eye movements during perception and mental imagery. The primary aim of this study was to assess whether the spatial similarity translates to the temporal domain. We used recurrence quantification analysis (RQA) to assess the temporal structure of eye fixations in visual perception and mental imagery and we compared the temporal as well as the spatial characteristics in mental imagery with perception by means of Bayesian hierarchical regression models. We further investigated how person and picture-specific characteristics contribute to eye movement behavior in mental imagery. Working memory capacity and mental imagery abilities were assessed to either predict gaze dynamics in visual imagery or to moderate a possible correspondence between spatial or temporal gaze dynamics in perception and mental imagery. We were able to show the spatial similarity of fixations between visual perception and imagery and we provide first evidence for its moderation by working memory capacity. Interestingly, the temporal gaze dynamics in mental imagery were unrelated to those in perception and their variance between participants was not explained by variance in visuo-spatial working memory capacity or vividness of mental images. The semantic content of the imagined pictures was the only meaningful predictor of temporal gaze dynamics. The spatial correspondence reflects shared spatial structure of mental images and perceived pictures, while the unique temporal gaze behavior could be driven by generation, maintenance and protection processes specific to visual imagery. The unique temporal gaze dynamics offer a window to new insights into the genuine process of mental imagery independent of its similarity to perception

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Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

UniBE Contributor:

Gurtner, Lilla, Maalouli-Hartmann, Matthias, Mast, Fred


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology








Lilla Gurtner

Date Deposited:

09 Feb 2021 15:29

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:46

Publisher DOI:


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