Autobiographical memory in blind people


To investigate the causes and consequences of aphantasia, aphantasists as well as unaffected control subjects are recruited.

Background and aims

There is growing evidence that autobiographical memory vitally depends on our ability to construct visual mental images. Moreover, the creation of mental images is a fundamental process underlying several other cognitive functions such as episodic future thinking, navigation, and complex decision-making processes. These cognitive functions are also frequently impaired in patients with neurodegenerative dementias such as Alzheimer's disease, who give less vivid and detailed reports of personal past experiences than healthy controls. Therefore, the link between the visual system and autobiographical memory appears to be a key component that this study aims to investigate.

With this study, we would like to investigate the neural correlates of autobiographical memory in people who are blind from birth and in people who become blind later in life. People who are blind from birth have never had the opportunity to acquire visual memories, and thus are presumably unable to experience visual images. To date, the mental landscape of this rare patient group has not been studied in depth. Preliminary evidence suggests that blind people have difficulty vividly remembering personal events and use more olfactory and auditory details to recall their past.

The results will shed light on the relationship between autobiographical memory and visual imagination. This connection is also important for people with dementia.

Requirements for study participation

  • You are birth-blind or later blinded
  • You do not carry any metallic foreign objects in or on your body and do not have claustrophobia
  • You have not had any previous heart or head surgery and have no psychiatric or neurological pre-existing conditions
  • You are able to travel to the DZNE in Bonn for the duration of the study of three to four hours (an expense allowance of 10 Euro/hour and a travel allowance will be paid)

Course of the study

We ask you to visit the DZNE in Bonn:

  • First, we will conduct an orienting eye examination and interview.
  • Subsequently, we ask you
    • to participate in a structured interview on autobiographical memory, and
    • to participate in an MRI examination (during the MRI examination, we will take images of your brain).

Your stay at the DZNE in Bonn will take about 3-4h.

Start of the study: May 2023
Status: recruiting active

PD Dr. Dr. Cornelia McCormick
Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE)
+49 228 287-31852

In Cooperation with:
Universitätsklinikum Bonn
Ophthalmology - Orthoptics
Principle Investigator:
Prof. Dr. med. Bettina Wabbels
+49 228 287-15648

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