Fantasy-prone personality

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Fantasy-prone personality (FPP) is a disposition or personality trait in which a person experiences a lifelong, extensive, and deep involvement in fantasy.[1] This disposition is an attempt, at least in part, to better describe "overactive imagination" or "living in a dream world".[2] 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.[3] 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".[1]

The first systematic studies were conducted in the 1980s by psychologists Judith Rhue and Steven Jay Lynn.[1] 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".[4]

Characteristic features[edit]

Fantasy prone persons are reported to spend up to half (or more) of their time awake fantasizing or daydreaming. People with Type 1 FPP will often confuse or mix their fantasies with their real memories. They also report out-of-body experiences, and other similar experiences that are interpreted by the some fantasizers as psychic (parapsychological) or mystical.[3] However, those with Type 2 have perfect ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy, much like the people with schizoid personality disorder.

A paracosm is an extremely detailed and structured fantasy world often created by extreme or compulsive fantasizers.[5]

Wilson and Barber listed numerous characteristics in their pioneer study, which have been clarified and amplified in later studies.[6][7] These characteristics include some or many of the following experiences:

  • 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
  • receiving sexual satisfaction without physical stimulation

Fantasy proneness is measured by the "inventory of childhood memories and imaginings" (ICMI)[8] and the "creative experiences questionnaire (CEQ).[9]

Developmental pathways[edit]

Fantasizers have had a large exposure to fantasy during early childhood.[1][6] This over-exposure to childhood fantasy has at least three important causes:

  • Parents or caregivers who indulged in their child's imaginative mental or play environment during childhood.

People with fantasy prone personalities are more likely to have had parents, or close family members that joined the child in believing toys are living creatures. They may also have encouraged the child who believed they had imaginary companions, read fairytales all through childhood and re-enacted the things they had 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.[citation needed] 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.[10] 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.[citation needed]

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.[9] For example, one subject in Barrett's study said her parents' standard 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)."[11]

  • Exposure to abuse, physical or sexual, such that fantasizing provides a coping or escape mechanism.
  • Exposure to severe loneliness and isolation, such that fantasizing provides a coping or escape mechanism from the boredom.

Regarding psychoanalytic interpretations, Sigmund Freud stated that "unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies, every separate fantasy contains the fulfillment of a wish, and improves 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.[1]

Related constructs[edit]

Openness to experience is one of the five domains that are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model.[12] 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 their mental imagery, particularly fantasy.[13] The original research on absorption was by American psychologist Auke Tellegen.[14] Roche reports that fantasy proneness and absorption are highly correlated.[13] 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.[15]

Health implications[edit]

A 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.[3]

Maladaptive daydreaming is a proposed psychological disorder, a fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and interferes with work, relationships and general activities. Those with this pathology daydream or fantasize excessively, assuming roles and characters in scenarios created to their liking. People with excessive daydreaming are aware that the scenarios and characters of their fantasies are not real and have the ability to determine what is real, elements that differentiate them from those with schizophrenia.[16][17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lynn, Steven J.; Rhue, Judith W. (1988). "Fantasy proneness: Hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology". American Psychologist. 43 (1): 35–44. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.43.1.35. PMID 3279876.
  2. ^ Glausiusz, Josie (2011). "Living in a dream world". Scientific American Mind. 20 (1): 24–31. doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0311-24.
  3. ^ a b c 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.
  4. ^ 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. G. Kunzendorf, N. Spanos, & B. Wallace (Eds.) Hypnosis and Imagination, NY: Baywood, 1996 (ISBN 0895031396); 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.
  5. ^ Mackeith, S. & Silvey, R. (1988). The paracosm: a special form of fantasy. In, Morrison, D.C. (Ed.), Organizing early experience: Imagination and cognition in childhood (pages 173 – 197). New York: Baywood. ISBN 0895030519.
  6. ^ a b Rhue, Judith W.; Jay Lynn, Steven (1987). "Fantasy proneness: Developmental antecedents". Journal of Personality. 55: 121–137. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00431.x.
  7. ^ Novella, Steven (2007-04-03). "The Fantasy prone personality". NeuroLogica Blog. Self-published. Retrieved 2011-11-13.
  8. ^ Myers, S. A. (1983). "The Wilson-Barber Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings: Children's form [etc]". Journal of Mental Imagery. 7: 83–94.
  9. ^ a b Merckelbach, H.; et al. (2001). "The Creative Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ): a brief self-report measure of fantasy proneness". Personality and Individual Differences. 31 (6): 987–995. doi:10.1016/s0191-8869(00)00201-4. Archived from the original on 2021-01-27. Retrieved 2019-12-05.
  10. ^ Wolf, Shelby Anne (1994). "Learning to Act/Acting to Learn: Children as Actors, Critics, and Characters in Classroom Theatre". Research in the Teaching of English. 28 (1): 7–44. ISSN 0034-527X. JSTOR 40171323. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ McCrae, R. R. (1994). "Openness to experience: Expanding the boundaries of Factor-V". European Journal of Personality. 8 (4): 251–272. doi:10.1002/per.2410080404. S2CID 144576220. Archived from the original on 2021-01-27. Retrieved 2021-01-27.
  13. ^ a b Roche, Suzanne M.; McConkey, Kevin M. (1990). "Absorption: Nature, assessment, and correlates". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 59 (1): 91–101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.59.1.91. ISSN 0022-3514.
  14. ^ 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. PMID 4844914.
  15. ^ 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. PMID 22409505. Archived from the original on 2021-01-27. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  16. ^ Somer, Eli (2002). "Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry" (PDF). Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. 32 (2/3): 197–211. doi:10.1023/A:1020597026919. S2CID 27013772. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-11-27. Retrieved 2018-11-03.
  17. ^ 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. PMID 21959201. S2CID 206954778.