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Fantasy prone personality

fantasy prone personality, fantasy prone personality disorder
Fantasy prone personality FPP is a disposition or personality trait in which a person experiences a lifelong extensive and deep involvement in fantasy1 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


  • 1 History
  • 2 Characteristic features
  • 3 Developmental pathways
  • 4 Related constructs
  • 5 Health and theoretical implications
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References


American psychologists Sheryl C Wilson and Theodore X Barber first identified FPP in 1981, said to apply to about 4% of the population3 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 Lynn1 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 featuresedit

A fantasy prone person is reported to spend a large portion of their time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences5 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 experiences5

A paracosm is an extremely detailed and structured fantasy world often created by extreme or compulsive fantasizers6

Wilson and Barber listed numerous characteristics in their pioneer study, which have been clarified and amplified in later studies78 These characteristics include some or many of the following experiences:

  1. excellent hypnotic subject most but not all fantasizers
  2. having imaginary friends in childhood
  3. fantasizing often as child
  4. having an actual fantasy identity
  5. experiencing imagined sensations as real
  6. having vivid sensory perceptions
  7. receiving sexual satisfaction without physical stimulation

Fantasy proneness is measured by the "inventory of childhood memories and imaginings" ICMI9 and the "creative experiences questionnaire CEQ5

Developmental pathwaysedit

Fantasizers have had a large exposure to fantasy during early childhood17 This over-exposure to childhood fantasy has at least three important causes:

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 daydreams5 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”10

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 void1

Related constructsedit

Openness to experience is one of the five domains that are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model11 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 fantasy12 The original research on absorption was by American psychologist Auke Tellegen13 Roche reports that fantasy proneness and absorption are highly correlated12 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 importance14

Health and theoretical implicationsedit

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 tests3

Maladaptive daydreaming15 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

Parapsychology paranormal experiences The pioneer Wilson-Barber study3 states that fantasy prone personality is a key to understanding reputed paranormal parapsychological experiences, such as extrasensory perception ESP

See alsoedit

  • Suggestibility
  • Maladaptive daydreaming


  1. ^ a b c d e Lynn, Steven J; Rhue, Judith W 1988 "Fantasy proneness: Hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology" American Psychologist 43: 35–44 doi:101037/0003-066x43135 
  2. ^ Glausiusz, Josie 2011, March–April Living in a dream world Scientific American Mind, 201, 24 - 31
  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 13, 94 - 116 http://psycnetapaorg/psycinfo/1983-22322-001
  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. ^ a b c d Merckelbach, H; et al 2001 "The Creative Experiences Questionnaire CEQ: a brief self-report measure of fantasy proneness" Personality and Individual Differences 31: 987–995 doi:101016/s0191-88690000201-4  CS1 maint: Explicit use of et al link
  6. ^ Mackeith, S & Silvey, R 1988 The Paracosm: a special form of fantasy In, Morrison, DC Ed, Organizing Early Experience: Imagination and Cognition in Childhood pages 173 - 197 New York: Baywood ISBN 0895030519
  7. ^ a b Rhue, Judith W; Jay Lynn, Steven 1987 "Fantasy proneness: Developmental antecedents" Journal of Personality 55: 121–137 doi:101111/j1467-64941987tb00431x 
  8. ^ Novella, Steven 2007-04-03 "The Fantasy Prone Personality" NeuroLogica Blog Self-published Retrieved 2011-11-13 
  9. ^ Myers, S A 1983 "The Wilson-Barber Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings: Children's form etc" Journal of Mental Imagery 7: 83–94 
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ NEO-PI-R NEO Personality Inventory - Revised http://wwwunifrch/ztd/HTS/inftest/WEB-Informationssystem/en/4en001/d590668ef5a34f17908121d3edf2d1dc/hbhtm
  12. ^ 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:101037/0022-351459191 ISSN 0022-3514 
  13. ^ 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:101037/h0036681 ISSN 0021-843X PMID 4844914 
  14. ^ 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:101037/a0027447 ISSN 1939-1455 PMID 22409505 
  15. ^ 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:101016/jconcog201108013 ISSN 1053-8100 

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