A complex cognitive process of forming a mental scene that includes elements which are not, at the moment, being perceived by the senses.
Imagination involves the synthetic combining of aspects of memories or experiences into a mental construction that differs from past or present perceived reality, and may anticipate future reality.
Generally regarded as one of the “higher mental functions,” it is not thought to be present in animals. Imagination may be fantastic, fanciful, wishful, or even problem-solving. It may differ from reality to a slight or to a great extent. Imagination is generally considered to be a foundation of artistic expression, and, within limits, to be a healthy, creative, higher mental function.
Observers as diverse as Greek philosopher Plato and English poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) have noted two contrasting types of imagination: imitative and creative.
Imitative imagination is concerned with mentally reconstructing past events or images. This includes eidetic imagery, which consists of rich and vividly recalled images and is especially characteristic of children up to the age of six. Afterimages, such as the green image that appears after looking at the color red, are a type of imitative image and are produced by sense receptors. Various images are associative with imitative imagination, which is the mind reconstructing the past. Examples are:
In contrast to the imitative form of imagination, creative imagination is associated with thought and involves the restructuring, rather than merely the retention, of sensory impressions. It was this faculty that Coleridge called “imagination” as opposed to “fancy,” which was his name for imitative imagining.
One common form of creative imagination is daydreaming. At one time, daydreaming and fantasies were regarded as compensatory activities that had the function of “letting off steam,” but researchers have since cast doubt on that hypothesis. Today, creative imagination is seen as the basis for achievements in the realms of both art and science, and students of behavior have analyzed the creative process in hopes of being able to encourage greater creativity through various types of training.
Mental imagery has become a significant topic of study for cognitive psychologists. Researchers have found that imagery plays a significant role in emotion, motivation, sexual behavior, and many aspects of cognition, including learning, language acquisition, memory, problem-solving, and perception. Discoveries about the specialized functions of the right-and left-brain hemispheres have revealed that the rightbrain hemisphere is the center for much of the mental functioning commonly regarded as creative: it is the side associated with intuitive leaps of insight and the ability to synthesize existing elements into new wholes. These findings have been applied by educators seeking to enhance individual creativity in areas including writing and drawing.
Mental imagery has also been found to be a useful technique in clinical work. Gestalt therapy, for instance, has traditionally involved the use of images. Mental images have also been used as a diagnostic tool to reveal feelings and attitudes not accessible through verbalization.
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