Eye Movement Reinstatement and Neural Reactivation During Mental Imagery


Half a century ago, Donald Hebb posited that mental imagery is a constructive process that emulates perception. Specifically, Hebb claimed that visual imagery results from the reactivation of neural activity associated with viewing images. He also argued that neural reactivation and imagery benefit from the re-enactment of eye movement patterns that first occurred at viewing (fixation reinstatement). To investigate these claims, we applied multivariate pattern analyses to functional MRI (fMRI) and eye tracking data collected while healthy human participants repeatedly viewed and visualized complex images. We observed that the specificity of neural reactivation correlated positively with vivid imagery and with memory for stimulus image details. Moreover, neural reactivation correlated positively with fixation reinstatement, meaning that image-specific eye movements accompanied image-specific patterns of brain activity during visualization. These findings support the conception of mental imagery as a simulation of perception, and provide evidence consistent with the supportive role of eye movement in neural reactivation.

Cerebral Cortex