K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

When I researched the vampire subculture back in the ‘90s, I came across a psychological concept, the “fantasy-prone personality.” I learned about people in experiments who could imagine things as vividly as if they were real (and met some).

They could make their own bodies respond merely to the thought of something: skin blistered, warts were cured, orgasms occurred, and allergies erupted without the presence of physical stimuli.

The critical elements were 1) strength of belief in the reality of an event and 2) an ability to sustain it for a period of time.

Those who can vividly fantasize like this (FPPs) tend toward certain characteristics: They had a parent who encouraged fantasy when they were kids. They also report vivid memories of their early lives, feel extreme sympathy, tend to daydream, had imaginary playmates, and show a profound response to sensory events. As adults, fantasy remains central, but they usually keep it secret.

FPPs are easily hypnotizable, have tolerance for paranormal events, and a vulnerability to certain personality disorders. They also dissociate more easily and can remain longer in a dissociative state than most people. Some report vivid out-of-body experiences.

Psychologists Sheryl Wilson and Theodore Barber first looked into this concept in 1981. They estimated that FPP applied to about 4% of the population. Why they labeled it 'fantasy prone' is unclear. Other psychologists have conducted systematic studies, and the label has stuck.

I agree with Dr. Leonard George, author of Alternative Realities. It’s an unfortunate label.

“One could devise other labels,” he said, “such as ‘fantasy virtuosity,’ which more closely captures it. It seems likely that such people have existed in every culture, and many became shamans. This raises the question of the interaction between ‘fantasy proneness’ and society.

“Conventional modern culture is largely negative about the imagination. While we value creativity and imaginativeness when it serves the status quo, our support for imagining outside the grid of permitted thoughts is low. We’re careful to define fantasy as ‘an experience of the unreal,’ and those who take imagining seriously are often viewed as impractical, or even mad.

“Consequently, we have no formal, culturally sanctioned means of identifying the Fantasizers, and no institutions to harness their potential for the benefit of all.”

The Creative Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ) is a 25-item self-report inventory for evaluating fantasy proneness. According to researchers, the CEQ demonstrates test-retest stability and internal consistency. It was developed from things that people with a rich fantasy life reported, and can be found here. (If this link fails, it's easy to find with a Google serch.)

The items ask about such things as whether you thought dolls and stuffed animals were real as a child, believed in supernatural creatures, had a make-believe friend, had the sense you were another person, felt lonely, spent a high percentage of time daydreaming, had detailed and intense fantasies, used fantasy to escape boredom, identified with a role, had a sense of being directed by an outside force, and had intense religious experiences.

I suspect that many writers would get a high score on the CEQ. I urge those who are interested to look at it and do a self-evaluation. Then, do this:

1. Ignore the label, “fantasy-prone,” which makes it sound like an unfortunate condition.

2. Embrace the ability to fantasize as the gift that it is. FPPs can dissociate more easily and immerse more deeply in daydreams and lucid dreams. Those imaginative repositories can be rich troves of innovation and discovery.

3. Develop regular habits that tap into your fantasies as a way to enrich your life and the lives of those around you. I provide some ideas here and here.

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