The format of mental imagery: from a critical review to an integrated embodied representation approach

Massimiliano Palmiero, Laura Piccardi, Marco Giancola, Raffaella Nori, Simonetta D’Amico, Marta Olivetti Belardinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The issue of the format of mental imagery is still an open debate. The classical analogue (depictive)–propositional (descriptive) debate has not provided definitive conclusions. Over the years, the debate has shifted within the frame of the embodied cognition approach, which focuses on the interdependence of perception, cognition and action. Although the simulation approach still retains the concept of representation, the more radical line of the embodied cognition approach emphasizes the importance of action and clearly disregards the concept of representation. In particular, the enactive approach focuses on motor procedures that allow the body to interact with the environment, whereas the sensorimotor approach focuses on the possession and exercise of sensorimotor knowledge about how the sensory input changes as a function of movement. In this review, the embodied approaches are presented and critically discussed. Then, in an attempt to show that the format of mental imagery varies according to the ability and the strategy used to represent information, the role of individual differences in imagery ability (e.g., vividness and expertise) and imagery strategy (e.g., object vs. spatial imagers) is reviewed. Since vividness is mainly associated with perceptual information, reflecting the activation level of specific imagery systems, whereas the preferred strategy used is mainly associated with perceptual (e.g., object imagery) or amodal and motor information (e.g., spatial imagery), the format of mental imagery appears to be based on dynamic embodied representations, depending on imagery abilities and imagery strategies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCognitive Processing
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Dynamic
  • Embodied cognition
  • Imagery
  • Motor
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuropsychology
  • Perception
  • Semantic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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