Fantasy prone personality
Fantasy prone personality (FPP) or overactive imagination is a disposition or personality trait in which a person experiences a lifelong extensive and deep involvement in fantasy. This disposition is an attempt, at least in part, to better describe "living in a dream world". An individual with this trait (termed a fantasizer) may have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality and may experience hallucinations, as well as self-suggested psychosomatic symptoms. Closely related psychological constructs include daydreaming, absorption and eidetic memory.
American psychologists Sheryl C. Wilson and Theodore X. Barber first identified FPP in 1981, said to apply to about 4% of the population. Besides identifying this trait, Wilson and Barber reported a number of childhood antecedents that likely laid the foundation for fantasy proneness in later life, such as, "a parent, grandparent, teacher, or friend who encouraged the reading of fairy tales, reinforced the child's ... fantasies, and treated the child's dolls and stuffed animals in ways that encouraged the child to believe that they were alive." They suggested that this trait was almost synonymous with those who responded dramatically to hypnotic induction, that is, "high hypnotizables." The first systematic studies were conducted in the 1980s by psychologists Judith Rhue and Steven Jay Lynn. Later research in the 1990s by Deirdre Barrett at Harvard confirmed most of these characteristics of fantasy prone people, but she also identified another set of highly hypnotizable subjects who had had traumatic childhoods and who identified fantasy time mainly by "spacing out."
A fantasy prone person is reported to spend a large portion of his or her time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences. The fantasies may include dissociation and sexual fantasies. People with FPP are reported to spend over half of their time awake fantasizing or daydreaming and will often confuse or mix their fantasies with their real memories. They also report out-of-body experiences.
A paracosm is an extremely detailed and structured fantasy world often created by extreme or compulsive fantasizers.
- excellent hypnotic subject (most but not all fantasizers)
- having imaginary friends in childhood
- fantasizing often as child
- having an actual fantasy identity
- experiencing imagined sensations as real
- having vivid sensory perceptions
- reputed paranormal experiences (claiming psychic powers, encountering apparitions, reliving past experiences, having out-of-body experiences, communicating with higher intelligences or spirits, claiming to be abducted by aliens)
- mystical experiences
- believe they have powers for spiritual healing or faith healing
- hypnogogic hallucinations (waking dreams)
- receiving sexual satisfaction without physical stimulation.
(1) Parents or carers who provided a very structured and imaginative mental or play environment during childhood. People with fantasy prone personalities are more likely to have had parents, or close family members that made their inanimate toys as children seem real. They also encourage the child who believes they have imaginary companions, read fairytales all through childhood and re-enact the things they have read. People who, at a young age, were involved in creative fantasy activities like piano, ballet, and drawing are more likely to obtain a fantasy prone personality. Acting is also a way for children to identify as different people and characters which can make the child prone to fantasy-like dreams as they grow up. This can cause the person to grow up thinking they have experienced certain things and they can visualize a certain occurrence from the training they obtained while being involved in plays.
People have reported that they believed their dolls and stuffed animals were living creatures and that their parents encouraged them to indulge in their fantasies and daydreams. For example, one subject in Barrett’s study said her parents’ formula response to her requests for expensive toys was, “You could take this (household object) and with a little imagination, it would look just like (an expensive gift).”
(2) Exposure to abuse, physical or sexual, such that fantasizing provides a coping or escape mechanism.
(3) Exposure to severe loneliness and isolation, such that fantasizing provides a coping or escape mechanism from the boredom.
Regarding psychoanalytic interpretations, Sigmund Freud has stated that "unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies, every separate fantasy contains the fulfillment of a wish, and unproves an unsatisfactory reality." This shows childhood abuse and loneliness can result in people creating a fantasy world of happiness in order to fill the void.
Openness to experience is one of the domains that are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model. Openness involves six facets, or dimensions, including active imagination (fantasy), aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. Thus, fantasy prone personality correlates with the fantasy facet of the broader personality trait Openness to Experience.
Absorption is a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in his or her mental imagery, particularly fantasy. The original research on absorption was by American psychologist Auke Tellegen. Roche reports that fantasy proneness and absorption are highly correlated. Fantasizers become absorbed within their vivid and realistic mental imagery.
Dissociation is a psychological process involving alterations in personal identity or sense of self. These alterations can include: a sense that one's self or the world is unreal (derealization and depersonalization); a loss of memory (amnesia); forgetting one's identity or assuming a new self (fugue); and fragmentation of identity or self into separate streams of consciousness (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder). Dissociation is measured most often by the Dissociative Experiences Scale. Several studies have reported that dissociation and fantasy proneness are highly correlated. This suggests the possibility that the dissociated selves are merely fantasies, for example, being a coping response to trauma. However, a lengthy review of the evidence concludes that there is strong empirical support for the hypothesis that dissociation is caused primarily and directly by exposure to trauma, and that fantasy is of secondary importance.
False pregnancy (pseudocyesis). A surprisingly high number of female fantasizers - 60% of the women asked in the Wilson-Barber study - reported that they have had a false pregnancy (pseudocyesis) at least once. They believed that they were pregnant, and they had many of the symptoms. In addition to amenorrhea (stoppage of menstruation), they typically experienced at least four of the following: breast changes, abdominal enlargement, morning sickness, cravings, and "fetal" movements. Two of the subjects went for abortions, following which they were told that no fetus had been found. All of the other false pregnancies terminated quickly when negative results were received from pregnancy tests.
Maladaptive daydreaming.  A 2011 study reports on 90 excessive, compulsive or maladaptive fantasizers who engaged in extensive periods of highly-structured immersive imaginative experiences. They often reported distress stemming from three factors: difficulty in controlling their fantasies that seemed overwhelming; concern that the fantasies interfered in their personal relationships; and intense shame and exhaustive efforts to keep this "abnormal" behaviour hidden from others.
- Emily Brontë. According to writer Mike Dash, Emily Brontë, the author of the acclaimed novel "Wuthering Heights", met at least four of the 14 indicators of FPP listed by Wilson and Barber, including frequently fantasizing as a child, adopting a fantasy identity, experiencing imagined sensations as real, and having vivid sensory perceptions. According to Wilson and Barber, people who meet six of the indicators have FPP.
- Albert Einstein. The highly creative physicist was a private man who spoke little about his mental life. However it is feasible to argue that he was fantasy-prone. Einstein told his physician and friend Janos Plesch: "The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge". He often conducted "thought experiments". For example, he fantasized himself passing another observer, each of them in a spaceship travelling close to the speed of light. These fantasies directly contributed to the formulation of his revolutionary theories of relativity. He once told his son (who asked why he was so famous) that he constructed his experiments inside his skull. He rode atop imaginary beams of light ... He accomplished these feats with images that blended into filmic sequences in his head.
- Nikola Tesla. The paper by Wilson & Barber (1983), which defined the term fantasy-prone personality, discusses the famous Serbian inventor. He had very strong visual fantasies - an ability that caused him much mental anguish during his childhood; for example, he had difficulty in differentiating between a visualized apple and a real apple. As he got older, however, he learned to discriminate more clearly between his visualizations and reality and used his ability to great advantage in visually constructing his inventions such as the alternating current generator, the induction coil, fluorescent lighting, and neon bulbs.
- Lynn, Steven J., and Judith W. Rhue (1988). Fantasy proneness: Hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology. American Psychologist, vol. 43, pages 35 - 44.
- Glausiusz, Josie (2011, March–April). Living in a dream world. Scientific American Mind, 20(1), 24 - 31.
- Wilson, S. C. & Barber, T. X. (1983). "The fantasy-prone personality: Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena." In, A. A. Sheikh (editor), Imagery: Current Theory, Research and Application (pp. 340-390). New York: Wiley. ISBN 0471 092258. Republished (edited): Psi Research 1(3), 94 - 116. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1983-22322-001.
- Barrett, D. L. The hypnotic dream: Its content in comparison to nocturnal dreams and waking fantasy. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1979, Vol. 88, p. 584 591; Barrett, D. L. Fantasizers and dissociaters: Two types of high hypnotizables, two imagery styles. In R. Kusendorf, N. Spanos, & B. Wallace (Eds.) Hypnosis and Imagination, NY: Baywood, 1996; Barrett, D. L. Dissociaters, fantasizers, and their relation to hypnotizability. In Barrett, D. L. (Ed.) Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy (2 vols): Vol. 1: History, theory and general research, Vol. 2: Psychotherapy research and applications, NY: Praeger/Greenwood, 2010.
- Merckelbach, H. et al. (2001). The Creative Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ): a brief self-report measure of fantasy proneness. Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 31, 987-995.
- Rhue, Judith W., and Steven Jay Lynn (1987). "Fantasy proneness: Developmental antecedents." Journal of Personality, vol. 55, 121 - 137.
- Novella, Steven (2007-04-03). "The Fantasy Prone Personality". NeuroLogica Blog. Self-published. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
- Myers, S. A. (1983). The Wilson-Barber Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings: Children's form [etc]. Journal of Mental Imagery, vol. 7, 83 - 94.
- Barrett, D. L. (2010). Dissociaters, fantasizers, and their relation to hypnotizability. Chapter 2, in Barrett, D. L. (Ed.), Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy (2 vols) New York: Praeger/Greenwood, p. 62 - 63.
- NEO-PI-R • NEO Personality Inventory - Revised. http://www.unifr.ch/ztd/HTS/inftest/WEB-Informationssystem/en/4en001/d590668ef5a34f17908121d3edf2d1dc/hb.htm.
- Roche, Suzanne M.; McConkey, Kevin M. (1990). "Absorption: Nature, assessment, and correlates". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59 (1): 91–101. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.206. ISSN 0022-3514.
- Tellegen, Auke; Atkinson, Gilbert (1974). "Openness to absorbing and self-altering experiences ("absorption"), a trait related to hypnotic susceptibility". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 83 (3): 268–277. doi:10.1037/h0036681. ISSN 0021-843X.
- Dalenberg, Constance J.; Brand, Bethany L.; Gleaves, David H. et al. (2012). "Evaluation of the evidence for the trauma and fantasy models of dissociation" (PDF). Psychological Bulletin 138 (3): 550–588. doi:10.1037/a0027447. ISSN 1939-1455.
- Bigelsen, Jayne; Schupak, Cynthia (2011). "Compulsive fantasy: Proposed evidence of an under-reported syndrome through a systematic study of 90 self-identified non-normative fantasizers". Consciousness and Cognition 20 (4): 1634–1648. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2011.08.013. ISSN 1053-8100.
- Dash, Mike. "Emily Brontë: A fantasy-prone personality". CFI Blogs. Charles Fort Institute. Retrieved 2014-05-29.
- Klinger, Eric (1991). Daydreaming: Using Waking Fantasy and Imagery for Self-Knowledge and Creativity. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. ISBN 978-0-87477-666-9.
- Neffe, Jürgen (2007). Einstein: A Biography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-1-4299-9738-6.
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