When we open our eyes, we see a world filled with objects and events. Yet, due to occlusion of some objects by others, we only have partial perceptual access to the events that transpire around us. I discuss the body of research on mental imagery in animals. I first cover prior studies of mental rotation in pigeons and imagery using working memory procedures first developed for human studies. Next, I discuss the seminal work on a type of learning called mediated conditioning in rats. I then provide more in-depth coverage of work from my lab suggesting that rats can use imagery to fill in missing details of the world that are expected but hidden from perception. We have found that rats make use of an active expectation (i.e., an image) of a hidden visual event. I describe the behavioral and neurobiological studies investigating the use of a mental image, its theoretical basis, and its connections to current human cognitive neuroscience research on episodic memory, imagination, and mental simulations. Collectively, the reviewed literature provides insight into the mechanisms that mediate the flexible use of an image during ambiguous situations. I position this work in the broader scientific and philosophical context surrounding the concept of mental imagery in human and nonhuman animals.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.