Emotionality of Mental Imagery and Verbal Thought

We compare the emotionality of mental imagery and verbal thought using eye tracking and fMRI. While mental imagery appears to act as an emotional amplifier, verbal thought appears to act as an emotional silencer. Our findings will contribute to existing literature by examining this difference in emotionality on a physiological and neural level.

Preregistration: coming soon

Researchers: Hannah Bär, Deniz Kumral, Andreas Paetsch, Monika Schönauer, & Fritz Renner

Positive Imagery and Attention

We examine the influence of positive compared to neutral imagery of everyday activities on behavioral motivation and attention using self-report measures and a visual probe task with concurrent eye tracking, respectively. Based on our results, we will gain insight into the cognitive mechanisms affected by positive imagery and how this may be useful for interventions based on mental imagery.

Preregistration: https://osf.io/x4wvk/

Researchers: Hannah Bär, Jessica Werthmann, Andreas Paetsch, & Fritz Renner

A Manipulation of Motivation in Daily Life using Mental Imagery

Employing Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) we assess concepts relevant to mood and motivation in the daily life of individuals with depressive symptoms. In addition, participants are asked to perform exercises that use mental imagery to promote the engagement in activities via an app on several days. This study, thereby, elucidates the links between relevant concepts in daily life and how they are impacted by mental imagery exercises outside the lab.

Preregistration: https://osf.io/kytpe

Researchers: Andreas Paetsch, Lotte Lemmens, Alberto Jover Martínez, & Fritz Renner

Imagery induced Motivation Assessed using Pupillometry

In this study we compare the emotion and motivation enhancing quality of mental imagery of activities to abstract verbal thought concerning identical material. We use self-report measures as well as pupil dilation as a physiological measure of emotional arousal during mental imagery of activities or abstract verbal thought. This study will provide novel insights into the emotional impact of mental imagery by investigating the physiological response via pupil dilation in addition to subjective self-report.

Preregistration: https://osf.io/93yvu

Researchers: Andreas Paetsch, Hannah Bär, Max Schneider, & Fritz Renner

Mental Imagery as Reward Amplifier

In this lab-based study we test the effects of prospective mental imagery in a sample of participants showing mild symptoms of anhedonia. Specifically we test if the motivational impact of ‚affective forecasting‘, i.e. mental imagery’s capacity to generate rich multisensory and emotionally salient experiences of planned reward activities, is moderated by participants‘ hedonic capacity, as assessed with the Temporal Experience of Pleasure Scale (TEPS; Gard et al., 2006).

Preregistration: https://osf.io/n2kx6

Researchers: Max Heise, Jessica Werthmann, & Fritz Renner

Reward Imagery as Motivational Amplifier

In this lab-based study we tested whether the motivational effects of prospective mental imagery are facilitated by the explicit reference to the positive emotions associated with planned reward activities. By this we hope to gain a more sustained understanding of the mechanisms involved in
mental imagery interventions. This is highly relevant for CBT, as it could inform both the
design of effective new treatments as well as the targeted use of prospective mental imagery as an adjunct to existing ones.

Preregistration: https://osf.io/c5svx

Researchers: Max Heise, Jessica Werthmann, & Fritz Renner

Web-based Imagery Behavioural Activation

In this online study we aim to test the feasibility and effects of an extended 4-session imagery activity planning training, delivered over the internet. The study will be conducted with volunteers from the general population who report mild to moderate feelings of low mood and sadness based on established cut-offs on a self-report rating scale and who fulfill diagnostic criteria according to the DSM-5 for a major depressive episode on a structured interview.

We will measure behavioral activation, mental well-being and changes in depressive symptoms over the course of the study. We will explore the feasibility and acceptability of the training program through session attendance, completion rates, written feedback and self-report questionnaires.

Researchers: Max Heise, Luisa Treiss, Leonard Morrissey, Franziska Stowasser, Jessica Werthmann, & Fritz Renner

Using cognitive support to improve skill acquisition

Current treatments for depression are only effective for half of the patients. To improve and innovate treatments, a better understanding on how symptoms improve during treatment is essential. One of the most often hypothesized treatment mechanisms to reduce symptoms during psychotherapy is the acquisition of skills to cope with symptoms. However, cognitive and neurobiological impairments inherent to depression might interfere with skill learning and patients may vary in their capacity to learn therapy-skills, suggesting that enhancing learning in those who need it seems important to improve psychotherapy outcomes.

In two studies, we investigate how different cognitive support strategies (mental imagery versus retrieval versus control) can improve skill acquisition within a non-clinical sample (study A) and in a sample with elevated distress (study B). This is a first step towards disentangling how cognitive support strategies can benefit therapy mechanisms (in this case: skill acquisition) and outcome (in this case: distress).

The studies started in november 2020 and will continue till the end of 2022.

Researcher: Sanne Bruijniks, Fritz Renner

Registration link:


FRIS Study: Online study on mood and imagination

Take part in our online study on mood and imagination and win 1 of 15 Amazon vouchers each worth 20€! (Duration approx. 20 min.)

Follow this link for more information: https://www.unipark.de/uc/gedankenundaktionen/

Jetzt an Online-Umfrage der Universität Freiburg zu Stimmung und Vorstellungsvermögen teilnehmen und einen von 15 Amazon-Gutscheinen à 20 € gewinnen! (Dauer ca. 20 Min)
Weitere Infos unter folgendem Link: https://www.unipark.de/uc/gedankenundaktionen/

Preregistration: https://osf.io/9y64q

Researchers: Andreas Paetsch, Hannah Bär, Max Heise, Sanne Bruijniks, & Fritz Renner


To improve and innovate psychological treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD), a better understanding on how symptoms ameliorate during treatment is essential. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), one of the most investigated treatments for MDD, a prominently hypothesized key therapy process to reduce depressive symptoms is the acquisition of CBT skills. However, it is unclear whether procedures focused on the acquisition of CBT skills play a causal role in the improvement of CBT skills. In addition, cognitive and neurobiological impairments inherent to MDD might interfere with efficient skill learning and patients may vary in these impairments and their capacity to learn. In this randomized trial, we isolate a single CBT Skill Acquisition Procedure (CBTSAP) and test its direct effects on CBT skills, change in related therapy processes and outcome. We hypothesize that the CBTSAP causes improvements in CBT skills, related therapy processes and outcome compared to an active control condition. In addition, we hypothesize that learning capacity moderates the effects of CBTSAP on change in CBT skills, related therapy processes and outcome. Last, we hypothesize that integrating mental imagery as cognitive support to strengthen the effects of the CBTSAP will be most beneficial for patients with low learning capacity.

This project is funded by a Rubicon research grant granted to S. Bruijniks by the Dutch Research
Council Social Sciences and Humanities from NWO.


Researcher: Sanne Bruijniks, Fritz Renner, Jessica Werthmann, Max Heise