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Health > Mental Health > Imagination


Children often have vivid imaginations, but imagination can also play a major part in adult life. So what are its uses and why does it sometimes mislead us?

The ability to imagine develops in the early years of life. By the time they are four or five, most children have the capacity to use their imaginations to play highly inventive games and to use both toys and household objects in imaginative and creative way.

Play is one of the most important means by which a child can develop his imagination and is vital in the pre-school years. By encouraging a child to use his imagination a parent is providing him with the chance to widen his mental horizons and to develop the skills of co-ordination and other related abilities.

The development of the imagination can give rise to many childhood fears-not simply fear of ghosts, monsters and other supernatural beings but also fear of accidents, illness and death. Parents should do all they can to disperse such fears, but if they persist to the extent that they hinder the child’s emotional or physical development then the child should see a doctor.


The brain is involved in the development and use of the imagination and research has shown that of the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain (the large domes at the top of the brain) it is the right-hand one that is more involved with imaginative powers. The left side of the brain is concerned with though and language while ‘three-dimensional, artistic and musical abilities, which are associated with the imagination are controlled by the right size.

As imagination is a function carried out by the brain, it might be logical to think that there is some link between imagination and intelligence. Many attempts have been made to find some connection between imagination-expressed through creativity -and intelligence but it has been shown that there is no statistical link. It is just as possible to be highly creative and score poorly in IQ tests as it is have a high IQ and low creativity.

Attempts have also been made to find a connection between imaginative thinking and personality . These studies showed that, in general, the more imaginative a person is, the more likely he is to be introverted and need plenty of solitude, although there were many exceptions. Powers of intuition and the ability to grasp abstract concepts were also more highly developed in the most imaginative and creative people tested.


The imagination can go wrong at times. Hallucinations are thought to be one aspect of faulty imagination and can occur when the brain is deprived of sleep, or in cases of mental illness or be induced by drugs such as LSD. They are also common among people who have been deprived of sensory input to their brains-for example, by being kept in solitary confinement for long periods. They can take many forms-from the desert traveller desperate for water who ‘sees’ an oasis, to the hallucinations of a sleep-deprived truck driver who sees imaginary spiders crawling over his windscreen.

A misdirection of the imagination may be involved in a variety of emotional problems and mental illness. In a mild form a child who is overanxious about school may project his anxieties into imagining that he is victimized by his teacher or his classmates.

Later in childhood, or in adult life, the imagination may run riot in an abnormal way during many types of illness. An anorexic girl who compulsively starves herself may imagining that she is fat for a whole variety of reasons, including fear of growing up and developing into a woman.

Someone with a depressive illness may constantly imagine that they are being followed, or that they must wash because their hands are covered with imaginary germs. When a person is unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, they are probably suffering from some form of mental illness, and the will need medical and psychiatric help.

The most serious derangement of the imagination is thought to occur in the mental illness of schizophrenia, perhaps the most serious of the common mental illnesses.

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