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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 the popular term "overactive imagination",[2] or "living in a dream world".[3] 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. Three closely related psychological constructs are daydreaming, absorption and eidetic memory.


American psychologists Sheryl C. Wilson and Theodore X. Barber first identified FPP in about 1981, said to apply to about 4% of the population.[4] Besides identifying this fascinating trait, Wilson and Barber reported a number of childhood antecedents that likely caused 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 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."[5]

Fantasy proneness is measured by the Inventory of Childhood Memories and Imaginings (ICMI) [6] and the Creative Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ).[7]

Characteristic features

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.[7] 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.[7]

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

Wilson and Barber listed numerous characteristics in their pioneer study, which have been clarified and amplified in later studies.[8][9] These characteristics are:

  1. excellent hypnotic subject (most but not all fantasizers)
  2. having imaginary friends as child
  3. fantasizing often as child
  4. having an actual fantasy identity
  5. experiencing imagined sensations as real
  6. having vivid sensory perceptions
  7. reliving past experiences
  8. claiming psychic powers
  9. having out-of-body experiences
  10. receiving information from higher powers, spirits, intelligences
  11. believe they have powers for spiritual healing or faith healing
  12. encountering apparitions
  13. hypnogogic hallucinations (waking dreams)
  14. claiming to have been abducted by aliens
  15. receiving sexual satisfaction without any stimulation

Developmental pathways

Fantasizers have had a large exposure to fantasy during early childhood.[1][8] This over-exposure to childhood fantasy has at least three important causes:

(1) Parents or carers who provided a very structured and imaginative mental and/or play environment. People with fantasy prone personality are more likely to have had parents, or closely related family members that have made their inanimate toys as children seem real. They also encourage the child who believes they have imaginary companions, reads fairytales all through childhood and re-enacts the things they have read. Children 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 creates 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.[7] 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 (that $200-whatever-Susie-just-got).” And she reported, “this worked for me — although Susie couldn’t quite always see it.” Fantasy prone people generally functioned well in their adult life.[10]

(2) Exposure to physical an/or sexual abuse, such that fantasizing provides a coping or escape mechanism from the abuse.

(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 loneliness and dissatisfaction in life can result in people creating a fantasy world of happiness in order to fill the void. Young children who once were treated with abuse and had a parent leave created a world of fantasies to escape from reality.[1]

Related constructs

Absorption is a disposition or personality trait in which a person becomes absorbed in his/her mental imagery, particularly fantasy.[11] This trait thus correlates highly with fantasy prone personality. The original research on absorption was by American psychologist Auke Tellegen.[12] Roche reports that fantasy proneness and absorption are highly correlated.[11] 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 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 by exposure to trauma, and that fantasy is of secondary importance.[13]

Health implications

False pregnancy (pseudocyesis). A surprisingly high number of 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.[4]

Maladaptive daydreaming [14] A recent 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.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Lynn, Steven J., and Judith W. Rhue (1988). Fantasy proneness: Hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology. American Psychologist, vol. 43, pages 35 - 44.
  2. Byrd, J. S. (2003). Creative genius or psychotic?
  3. Glausiusz, Josie (2011, March–April). Living in a dream world. Scientific American Mind, 20(1), 24 - 31.
  4. 4.0 4.1 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 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.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rhue, Judith W., and Steven Jay Lynn (1987). "Fantasy Proneness: Developmental Antecedents." Journal of Personality, vol. 55, 121 - 137.
  9. Novella, Steven The Fantasy Prone Personality. URL accessed on 2011-11-13.
  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. 11.0 11.1 Roche, Suzanne M. & McConkey, Kevin M. (1990). Absorption: Nature, assessment, and correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 59, 91-101.
  12. Tellegen, A. & Atkinson, G. (1974). Openness to absorbing and self-altering experiences ("absorption"), a trait related to hypnotic susceptibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, vol. 83, 268-277
  13. Dalenberg, Constance J. et al. (2012). Evaluation of the evidence for the trauma and fantasy models of dissociation. Psychological Bulletin, vol. 138, 550 - 588
  14. Bigelson, J. & Schupak, C. (2011). Compulsive fantasy: Proposed evidence of an under-reported syndrome through a systematic study of 90 self-identified non-normative fantasizers. Consciousness and Cognition, vol. 20, 1634-1648.

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