Fantasy prone personality (FPP) 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 the popular term "overactive imagination", or "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.
Wilson and Barber listed numerous characteristics in their pioneer study, which have been clarified and amplified in later studies. These characteristics are:
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)
believe they have powers for spiritual healing or faith healing
hypnogogic hallucinations (waking dreams)
receiving sexual satisfaction without physical stimulation.
Fantasy proneness is measured by the "inventory of childhood memories and imaginings" (ICMI)  and the "creative experiences questionnaire (CEQ).
Fantasizers have had a large exposure to fantasy during early childhood. 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 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.
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 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.
Enid Blyton. In an appendix to Barbara Stoney's biography, psychologist Peter McKellar describes Enid Blyton's vivid imagination and eidetic memory. She transcribed her prolific stories (over 600 titles) from visions that paraded before her eyes. A story emerged automatically in her mind's eye, without conscious planning, almost as if she had a private cinema screen. Her "under-mind" seemed able to receive directions such as "the story must be 40,000 words long", and sure enough, the book ended almost to the word.
Emily Brontë. Emily Brontë, one of three literary sisters, wrote the powerfully imaginative novel "Wuthering Heights". Together with her two sisters, Charlotte and Anne, she fantasized frequently as a child, created a detailed fantasy world or identity (paracosm), experienced imagined sensations as real, and had vivid sensory perceptions.
Charles Dickens. The famous novels and short stories of Dickens are filled with ghost stories, in some of which they are the central feature, e.g., "A Christmas Carol". In a famous drawing, Dickens is seen sitting in his study, and fantasies are seen parading before his eyes, as in the manner of Enid Blyton. His childhood was traumatic. As a child, his nanny Mary Weller regaled him with horror stories, which stimulated his imagination. He also apparently suffered from manic-depression (bipolar disorder).
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, based on a few scattered comments. Einstein told his 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 were directly responsible for his revolutionary theories of relativity.
Nikola Tesla. The famous inventor had very strong visual fantasies. This ability 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.
^ abcdeLynn, Steven J., and Judith W. Rhue (1988). Fantasy proneness: Hypnosis, developmental antecedents, and psychopathology. American Psychologist, vol. 43, pages 35 - 44.
^Byrd, J. S. (2003). Creative genius or psychotic? www.personalityresearch.org/papers/byrd.html.
^Glausiusz, Josie (2011, March–April). Living in a dream world. Scientific American Mind, 20(1), 24 - 31.
^ abcWilson, 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.
^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.
^ abcdMerckelbach, 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.
^ abRhue, Judith W., and Steven Jay Lynn (1987). "Fantasy Proneness: Developmental Antecedents." Journal of Personality, vol. 55, 121 - 137.
^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.
^ abRoche, Suzanne M. & McConkey, Kevin M. (1990). Absorption: Nature, assessment, and correlates. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 59, 91-101.
^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.
^Dalenberg, Constance J. et al. (2012). Evaluation of the evidence for the trauma and fantasy models of dissociation. Psychological Bulletin, vol. 138, 550 - 588.
^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.
^Stoney, Barbara (1997). Enid Blyton: The Biography (Revised edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.