Emotional imagery and physical anhedonia


  • Preparation of this manuscript was supported, in part, by a Biomedical Research Grant from the University of Delaware to R. F. Simons. Portions of this research were submitted by E. R. Fiorito to the University of Delaware in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. The Ph. D. was awarded posthumously to Dr. Fiorito, who died on November 26, 1992, following a long illness. This manuscript is submitted in honor of her extraordinary courage and of the fond memory in which she is held by all her friends and colleagues.

Address correspondence to Robert F. Simons, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716.


A previous study by Fitzgibbons and Simons (1992) confirmed that subjects identified as anhedonic consistently report a reduced experience of pleasure when confronted with hedonic stimuli (i.e., color slides). Evidence that this emotion-processing deficit extended from the verbal report to the physiological and behavioral domains was mixed but suggested that poor imagery might be associated with the reduced capacity to experience pleasure. The present experiment was designed to test this hypothesis more directly. Anhedonic and normal control subjects were presented scripts, which they were to imagine as vividly as possible. During both script presentation and imagery, heart rate, skin conductance, and facial muscle activity were recorded. Verbal reports of emotional experience were obtained subsequent to each image. The physiological data, as well as an imagery questionnaire, were consistent with the poor imagery hypothesis and also with data from other laboratories (Lang, 1984), which suggests that imagery may be a fundamental aspect of emotion processing in humans.