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In this chapter we review an emerging literature concerning the neuroimaging of various subcomponents of imagination. The preliminary conclusions of this review are two-fold. First, acts of imagination recruit similar networks in the brain to those used for the sensory and motor processing during corresponding actions in, or interactions with the real world (with the important exception that imagined movements do not activate the primary motor cortex). That the majority of studies reviewed have been concerned with visual imagery was inevitable since this is the form of imagination for which most neuroimaging experiments have been conducted. It should be noted that this first conclusion is relevant to all forms of imagination, and not just those of veridical imagery, where there is a 'real world' referent for the imaginary content. Second, the selection processes used in subcomponents of imagination such as anticipation, mindedness, and counterfactual thinking rely on widely distributed subcortical and cortical networks within the brain, consisting of important components such as the cingulate cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the cerebellum, and the orbitofrontal cortex. These neural structures play quite different functional roles in the complex interactions of real and imagined acts that constitute human thought and behaviour. Further knowledge of the precise functional roles of the interacting networks can be expected from neuroimaging in the coming years, perhaps through the technical breakthroughs which we imagine in a Coda and which could potentially facilitate and enhance our understanding of imagination in the future. © The British Academy 2007.


Journal article


Proceedings of the British Academy

Publication Date





307 - 326