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How Vivid is Your Imagery?

Since the later 1880s, imagery has been studied formally within university settings. Researchers have collected self-reports of the imagery experience by interviews, diaries, recordings, and questionnaires. Today we look at how these research questionnaires can help us sharpen our imagery skills and track our progress. We will start with the most current tool, the VVIQ, but I will cover the earlier questionnaires on which this tool is based in the coming months.

The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ and VVIQ2)

In 1973 the British psychologist, David Marks, published a questionnaire concentrating on how well people could see imagery. This questionnaire, and its 1995 revision, has been used by researchers for more than a thousand published studies.

Its approach is simple. Ask a participant to visualize an image and rank how vivid the image appears in their mind on a 1 to 5 scale. Once the participant has completed the questionnaire, they are asked to close their eyes and each image is reintroduced, and the participant ranks the vividness.

Here is the scale used in the VVIQ2. The rankings are simple and obvious. At one end of the range is not seeing imagery, and at the other end, experiencing imagery of great clarity.

  1. No image at all. You only “know” that you are thinking of an object
  2. Vague and dim
  3. Moderately clear and vivid
  4. Clear and reasonably vivid
  5. Perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision

3 Ways to Put the VVIQ to Use

These rankings can be quite useful outside of research to help us sharpen our imagery practice.

Use rankings as a ladder to go further into your imagery experience

When we begin an imagery session, most of us start at a ranking of 1, “No image at all. You only know you are thinking of an object.” Deeper imagery work begins at a rank of 3 (“moderately clear and vivid”), so we know that we have to find a way to get from 1 to 3. Relaxing a bit more can help. Whatever technique we use, we will know soon enough if it is working.

If, after about a minute or two, you haven’t moved along in the rankings, you can try something else. I suggest following any image that comes up. Since the image popped up on its own, clearly, it is ready to be experienced to a deeper degree. Follow the image until you find yourself at least at a level 3 ranking, and then bring up the imagery you are interested in exploring.

If you feel too unsettled energetically or emotionally, you can try concentrating on a static inner image (i.e., a coin, a book, a tree) for as long it takes to settle down. Or you can tap a memory and let a memory pull you into images. Keep experimenting to determine what works best for you.

With practice and close observation of our imagery experience in each session, you will get a feel for your movement up the ladder of rankings and you will be able to direct yourself along its course.

See how your vividness develops with practice

With daily practice, even just five minutes a session, your vividness will go up. To see your progress, give each session a ranking. You can give it a ranking at any point, beginning, middle, or end, but I suggest you rank your vividness shortly before you decide to finish up your session. This probably is the point at which you have reached good imagery engagement.

Find out how your vividness differs by what imagery you use

You can use David Mark’s VIQQ questionnaire images to detect if some imagery is more vivid than other imagery. He included 16 items in groups of 4 that test the vividness of nature, people, objects, and movement. I wish he had included basic conditions such as colors, lighting, and textures, but you can also try those. Marks suggests running through the list doing each one with eyes open, followed by going through the items with eyes closed.

  • Theme: Relative or Friend
  • For items 1 to 4, think of some relative or friend whom you frequently see (but who is not with you at present) and consider carefully the picture that comes before your mind’s eye
  • 1 The exact contour of the face, head, shoulders, and body.
  • 2* Characteristic poses of the head, attitudes of body, etc.
  • 3* The precise carriage, length of step, etc. in walking.
  • 4 The different colors worn in some familiar clothes.
  • Theme: Natural scene
  • For items 5 to 8, think of the sun and the sky.
  • 5* The sun is rising above the horizon into a hazy sky.
  • 6* The sky clears and surrounds the sun with blueness.
  • 7* Clouds. A storm blows up, with flashes of lightning.
  • 8* A rainbow appears.
  • Theme: Store
  • For items 9 thru 12, think of yourself at a store or a shop.
  • 9 The overall appearance of the shop from the opposite side of the road.
  • 10 A window display including colors, shapes, and details of individual items for sale.
  • 11 You are near the entrance. The color, shape, and details of the door.
  • 12* You enter the shop and go to the counter. The counter assistant serves you. Money changes hands.
  • Theme: Natural scene: Lake
  • For items 13 to 16, think of a country scene that involves trees, mountains, and a lake. Consider the picture that comes before your mind’s eye.
  • 13 The contours of the landscape.
  • 14 The color and shape of the trees.
  • 15 The color and shape of the lake.
  • 16*. A strong wind blows on the tree and on the lake causing waves.

* Eight of 16 items indicate activity or movement (marked *).