Decoding images in the mind’s eye: the temporal dynamics of visual imagery

Sophia M. Shatek*, Tijl Grootswagers, Amanda K. Robinson, Thomas A. Carlson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Mental imagery is the ability to generate images in the mind in the absence of sensory input. Both perceptual visual processing and internally generated imagery engage large, overlapping networks of brain regions. However, it is unclear whether they are characterized by similar temporal dynamics. Recent magnetoencephalography work has shown that object category information was decodable from brain activity during mental imagery, but the timing was delayed relative to perception. The current study builds on these findings, using electroencephalography to investigate the dynamics of mental imagery. Sixteen participants viewed two images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and two images of Santa Claus. On each trial, they viewed a sequence of the four images and were asked to imagine one of them, which was cued retroactively by its temporal location in the sequence. Time-resolved multivariate pattern analysis was used to decode the viewed and imagined stimuli. Although category and exemplar information was decodable for viewed stimuli, there were no informative patterns of activity during mental imagery. The current findings suggest stimulus complexity, task design and individual differences may influence the ability to successfully decode imagined images. We discuss the implications of these results in the context of prior findings of mental imagery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number53
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalVision (Switzerland)
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • mental imagery
  • electroencephalography
  • MVPA
  • decoding


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