Imagery is associated with memory, perception, and thought. Imagery occurs in all sensory modes. However, most work on imagery has neglected all but visual imagery. Concerns with imagery go back to the ancient Greek philosophers. Plato (c. 428-348 b.c.e.) and Aristotle (384-322 b.c.e.), for example, compared memory to a block of wax into which one's thoughts and perceptions stamp impressions. Aristotle gave imagery an important place in cognition and argued that people think in mental images. Early experimental psychologists, such as Wundt, carried on this notion of cognition.

Around 1901, Oswald Külpe (1862-1915) and his students at the University of Würzburg in Germany challenged these assumptions. However, these experiments employed introspective techniques, which Wundt and other attacked as being inconclusive. The controversy led to a rejection of mental imagery, introspection, and the study of consciousness itself. In the twentieth century, a movement toward seeing language as the primary analytical tool and a rejection of the old dominance of imagery came into fashion. The phenomenology of French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) also led to a decline of interest in imagery.

A revival of research in imagery followed the cognitive science revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, contributing greatly to the rising scientific interest in mental representations. This revival stemmed from research on sensory deprivation and on hallucinogenic drugs. Studies in the role of imagery mnemonics also contributed to this reemergence of imagery studies.

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