An Overactive Imagination? A Look at Fantasy Proneness


Since at least the 1980s, research psychologists have recognized a concepted—“fantasy proneness’’—which is a trait where individuals tend to get lost within their own imaginations, to put it simply. More interestingly, however, fantasy proneness has been looked at from many different angles including from psychological, media, and even legal perspectives.

A few decades ago, “investigators discovered a fascinating group of individuals alternately described as ‘fantasy–prone persons,’ ‘fantasizers’ and ‘fantasy addicts’ among the excellent hypnotic subjects they interviewed. Fantasizers reported frequent, intensive fantasizing,” the researchers write, “when engaged in non–demanding tasks and . . . reported a longstanding history of imaginative involvement in reading, play activities and mystical/religious experiences.”

One interesting dimension of fantasy proneness is that, according to research, fantasy prone individuals tend to score higher on measures of the Inventory of Childhood Imaginings (a tool used by research psychologists to measure childhood imaginings). Again, in the early 1980s, researchers “. . . determined that so–called ‘fantasy–prone persons’ who scored in the upper 4% of the population on the Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings, could be distinguished from less fantasy–prone subjects on measures of absorption, imagination, hypnotizability and creativity.”

One may ask: How do fantasy prone individuals measure up in the legal system? When he or she may be called upon as a witness, or when a fantasy prone individual may be asked to take a polygraph exam?

Answer: When it comes to storytelling, fantasy prone individuals produce vivid, rich stories. “Irrespective of the truth status of the stories,” researchers write, “independent observers rated stories of high fantasy-prone individuals as being richer . . . than those of low fantasy-prone individuals. Furthermore, overall,” the researchers continue: “[H]igh fantasy-prone people used more self-references in their stories compared with low fantasy-prone individuals. High fantasy prones’ fabricated stories scored higher on various truth indices than authentic stories of low fantasy prones. Thus, high fantasy-prone people are good in creating a sense of authenticity, even when they fabricate stories.”

Interestingly, too, individuals who score higher in fantasy proneness do not have higher rates of mental disorders than the general population. “In contrast to what was believed until a few decades ago,” researchers note, “recent studies have consistently shown that a substantial percentage of those who report anomalous or unusual experiences such as psi phenomena or hallucinations do not evidence greater psychological dysfunction than the population at large.” Although, it is also worth noting that “. . . some anomalous experiences such as hallucinations are considered diagnostic of mental disorders and believers in paranormal events are not infrequently assumed to be socially marginal and/or have some type of cognitive deficit.”

Finally, as a psychological construct, fantasy proneness in individuals may help enrich storytelling, and individuals with this trait likely had strong imaginations in childhood that carried over into adults.

References:

Cardena, E., et al. (2015). Psychological Health, Trauma, Dissociation, Absorption, and Fantasy Proneness Among Danish Spiritual Practitioners. Psychology of Consciousness, 2(2), 170 – 184.

Green, J. P., and Lynn, S. J. (2008). Fantasy Proneness and Hypnotizability: Another Look. Contemporary Hypnosis, 25(3 – 4), 156 – 164.

Schelleman-Offermans, K., and Merckelbach, H. (2010). Fantasy Proneness as a Co-founder of Verbal Lie Detection Tools. Journal of Investigative Psychology, 247 – 260.

Brooke Lamberti


Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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