Most persons can command a far wider range and greater profusion of imagery than they normally employ in thinking.
~George Herbert Betts
George Herbert Betts (1868-1934) published his PhD dissertation from Columbia University in 1909. Betts investigated the differences between voluntary mental imagery and spontaneous imagery. Voluntary imagery being the power to produce an image at will compared to spontaneous imagery which occurs with no effort. Betts based his work on the prior work of Fechner and Galton who delved into the scope of voluntary imagery used by individuals. Additionally, Betts suggested that inner speech could be equated with non-verbal imagery. His inventory was identified by Coffield et. al. (2004) to be a significant contribution to the development of the testing of learning styles.
The inventory was given to a variety of Cornell students consisting of 150 questions relating to seven different imagery types. Visual imagery delved into outline, shape, size, color, form, texture, distance, light and even movement. Auditory imagery looked at the varying qualities of pronunciation, pitch, force, volume, clearness and vividness. Cutaneous imagery related to touch and feeling. Kinesthetic imagery evolved around the movement of the body. Gastatory imagery employed the use of tastes such as bitter, sweet, salty and textures of food such as granulated. Olfactory imagery looked at smelling while organic imagery approached the state of being: fatigue, hunger, illness, thirst, nausea, activity levels, etc.
Betts Inventory consisted of answers related to seven degrees of clearness or vividness within each of these imagery designations. Starting with the greatest clarity to the least amount of clarity.
- Perfectly clear and vivid as the actual experience.
- Very clear and comparable in vividness to the actual experience.
- Moderately clear and vivid.
- Not clear or vivid, but recognizable.
- Vague or dim.
- So vague and dim as to be hardly discernible.
- No image at all present. You only knowing you are thinking of the object (Betts, 1909, pp 20-21).
Betts concluded from his research that “most persons can command a far wider range and greater profusion of imagery than they normally employ in thinking” (Betts, 1909, p94). Instances occur which imagery is most likely to be used. “(1) At points where our thinking is baffled; (2) At points where percepts would be of great assistance” (ibid., p94). The inventory also determined that thinking is not necessary linked to imagery. It can and does occur without the aid of imagery but may serve as a “familiar background for meaning” (ibid., p94). The accuracy of being able to recall an image both clearly and vividly is often associated with the emotions of the individual. Also, memory does not have to be accomplished with the aid of imagery including that it is not as closely related to reading as had previously been supposed. Lastly, Betts uncovered that “imagery has been greatly over-emphasized as to its relative importance as mental content” (ibid., p98).
Peter W. Sheehan (1967) later based his work on learning styles by shortening Betts’ inventory on mental imagery.
Betts, G.H. (1909). The distribution and functions of mental imagery. Teachers’ College Columbia University Contributions to Education, 26, 1-99.
Coffield F., Moseley D., Hall E., & Ecclestone K. (2004). Learning Styles and Pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning & Skills Research Centre: London, England.
Sheehan, P.W. (1967). A shortened form of Betts’ Questionnaire upon Mental Imagery. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 23, 386-389.
By Tracy Atkinson
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners and learning styles. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.