The causal effect of mental imagery on emotion assessed using picture-word cues

Emily A. Holmes, Andrew Mathews, Bundy Mackintosh, Tim Dalgleish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

188 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothesis that mental imagery is more likely to elicit emotion than verbal processing of the same material was investigated in two studies. Participants saw a series of pictures, each accompanied by a word, designed to yield a negative or benign meaning when combined. Participants were either free to combine the picture and word as they wished (Experiment 1) or instructed to integrate them using either a descriptive sentence or a mental image (Experiment 2). Emotional response was consistently greater following imagery than after producing a sentence. Experiment 2 also demonstrated the causal effect of imagery on emotion and evaluative learning. Additional participants in Experiment 2 described aloud their images/sentences. Independent ratings of descriptions indicated that, as well as being more emotional, images differed from sentences elicited by identical cues by greater similarity to memories, and greater involvement of sensations and specific events. Results support the hypothesis that imagery evokes stronger affective responses than does verbal processing, perhaps because of sensitivity of emotional brain regions to imagery, the similarity of imagery to perception, and to autobiographical episodes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-409
Number of pages15
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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