Fantasy, man’s capacity to “give to airy nothing a local habitation and a name,” has long intrigued poets, playwrights, and painters but has only during the twentieth century become a formal area of scientific inquiry in psychology. In current usage the term is almost synonymous with “daydream.” Within the area of experimental or clinical study, however, the term “fantasy” has a broader significance since it deals not only with imaginary activity spontaneously produced as part of the ongoing stream of thought (daydreams) but also with products of thought elicited upon demand from a clinician or in response to inkblots or ambiguous pictures. In effect, whether as a privately occurring daydream or as a publicly elicited story or imaginative response, fantasy generally seems to involve a complex associative activity in which events from the past are integrated into some more or less elaborate ongoing image. This image, usually visual but often auditory or verbal, is generally an inner “event” in which a new situation, possibility, personal role, or sequence of behavior is formulated either on a “mental screen” or as a story told to an examiner. Deriving from the Greek phantasia and still often spelled in Greek style as “phantasy,” fantasy refers to man’s remarkable ability to create an “as if” world either spontaneously or upon demand. It is possible that at one time such a capacity was not so widely developed, and people were more prone to regard their own fleeting imagery or brief daydreams as actual visions, omens, or appearances of deities, much as they responded to nocturnal dreams. Prophetic visions, like Ezekiel’s “wheel” or John’s Apocalypse, probably represent literary expressions of elaborate daydreams or fantasies used for expository or hortatory purposes.
Within psychology the formal study of fantasy as a behavioral phenomenon is probably traceable to Francis Galton’s classic studies of individual differences in imagery. Although imagery itself as a field of inquiry has a somewhat separate history, the fact that much fantasy behavior involves some form of imagery led Galton to touch on issues in volving the differences between persons in their internal private constructions. By 1890 William James in his great work, The Principles of Psychology, devoted portions of several chapters, including the famous one on the “stream of thought,” to issues closely related to fantasy processes. James was among the first great psychologists to sense a continuity between normal phenomena characteristic of the ongoing self-stimulating properties of the living brain and the bizarre delusions or hallucinations of the insane or the inspirational visions of religious mystics. James also called attention to what he termed the reproductive and memorial facets of imagery, or the degree to which the image is of an object recently perceived or one called forth from the distant past. The fantasy presumably may represent a response to a stimulus perceived momentarily which triggers off a complex associative process in the ongoing stream of thought. The taste of the madeleine crumb produced in Proust a vivid memory of his childhood in Combray, a strong memorial association, whereas the sound of the song of the nightingale touched off a more “fanciful” association in Keats, the song that
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
“Ode to a Nightingale,” stanza 7, 11. 8-10
Psychoanalytic contributions . Although the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of considerable research and controversy within psychology with respect to imagery and the possible existence of “imageless” thought, little attention was paid to the daydream itself as a spontaneously produced image complex. Interest in fantasy processes and dreams was limited at that period (and particularly following the emergence of Watsonian behaviorism in America) to the clinical psychiatrist and especially to the psychoanalyst. Freud’s elucidation of the structure and interpretative possibilities of the phenomena of nocturnal dreaming, based largely on remarkable self-observation and intensive clinical work, also led quite naturally to explorations of other dreamlike phenomena, such as daydreams. When Freud realized that patients’ accounts of infantile seductions (which he believed to be the foundation of neurotic developments) could not possibly have occurred, he was compelled to pay more attention to the nature of childhood fantasy as the source of such material. The free-association process of psychoanalysis itself also led to frequent reports of fantasies or daydreams, the most important, from a technical psychotherapeutic sense, being those involving the relationship between analyst and patient. Many psychoanalysts, therefore, paid careful attention to daydreams of patients and began in some instances to experiment with eliciting fantasies when patients were resistant to or incapable of recalling night dreams. Freud himself during the early part of the twentieth century speculated on the psychological significance of the daydream in his papers “The Relation of the Poet to Day-dreaming” (1908) and “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning” (1911).
Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century psychoanalysts made regular use of reports of spontaneous fantasies and published many papers in which myths or popular stories and literature were interpreted as forms of fantasy.
Projective methods . Some attempts were made to study children’s fantasies through stories elicited from them or through their drawings, but the most influential advances in the psychological study of fantasy came from the development of so-called projective techniques.
Rorschach technique. The first and most famous of the projective methods was the Rorschach Inkblot Technique, developed by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist. Of particular interest to him was his finding that persons who reported numerous “human movement” responses to the ink-blots, such as “two footmen bowing, two ladies dancing,” were characterized on the one hand by considerable motor inhibition or awkward motility and on the other by a heightened capacity for “inner living,” imagination, or fantasy production. In contrast, persons who produced numerous color-dominated responses were more likely to be outgoing, motorically affective, and emotionally labile. The juxtaposition of the human-movement and color responses provided an indication of what Rorschach called the “experience type,” the relative degree to which capacity for fantasy behavior and inner living were balanced with tendencies toward emotionality and direct action.
Rorschach’s method, somewhat modified, spread slowly through Europe and was introduced into the United States in the late 1920s and early 1930s by David Levy and Samuel Beck. In the United States by the time of World War II it had been adopted by clinical psychologists, who saw the method as a means of exploring the private fantasy world of patients without direct questioning and of eliciting behavioral data that could be quantified, thus meeting to some extent the objections of academic psychology to the purely qualitative approach of clinical psychoanalysis and psychiatry. With the introduction of more formal academic courses within the universities and private seminars on Rorschach technique, a great deal of systematic research was generated to check specific features of the technique or to compare cultures, psycho-pathological groups, or dimensions of individual difference through the use of the elicited fantasy response to the inkblots. A summary of much of the work in this field and of the methodological and theoretical issues involved in the use of the Rorschach method is available in Rorschach Psychology, edited by Rickers-Ovsiankina (1960) [see Projective methods, article onthe rorschach test].
Thematic Apperception Test. Beginning in the early 1930s at Harvard University’s Psychological Clinic, a group of psychologists under the leadership of Henry A. Murray undertook extensive studies of various techniques using elicited fantasies to study the nature of the normal personality. A specific technique that emerged was Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test, a method for eliciting imaginative stories in response to somewhat ambiguous pictures, for example, of a boy staring at a violin set before him on a table. The stories elicited by each of a series of 20 pictures were then analyzed in terms of the motivational pattern presumably involved in the story content, in effect an application of psychoanalytic interpretative methods, perhaps more systematic, quantifiable, and suitable for rigorous research requirements. With various modifications in scoring categories and picture content, the basic method is in widespread use today for clinical, industrial, and research purposes. Such scoring of motivational patterns from elicited fantasy products has been especially instrumental in the careful study by David McClelland, John Atkinson, and their numerous students of achievement motivation through fantasy. Because of the relatively objective scoring techniques available and high reliability of trained judges scoring for such motives as achievement and affiliation, the Thematic Apperception Test or related methods for scoring story material as a fantasy expression of a need or motive are perhaps more widely used in systematic research than the more diffuse Rorschach method. [For relevant summaries of literature, see Atkinson 1958; see also Achievement motivation; Projective methods, article Onthe thematic apperception test.]
Other projective methods. Within clinical practice and, to a lesser extent, in formal research, a large variety of fantasy-eliciting techniques are used. These include various drawing procedures or such studies of artistic activity as finger painting, eliciting responses to incomplete sentences or to requests like “Name your three wishes,” choices of various symbolic objects, organization of mosaic patterns, and puppet play. All make some general assumptions that a long-standing personality predisposition or style, as well as a motive pattern or aspects of bizarre thought and pathology, will be manifested by such elicited quasi-fantasy expressions. The proliferation in the use of these projective techniques has not, however, been the fruit of sufficient systematic prior experimentation with any one technique as a rule, nor have any really significant contributions to systematic psychological theory resulted from their widespread application. Individual clinical psychologists may be especially gifted at eliciting material using a particular technique with which they have much experience, but such personalized effectiveness does not usually add to the general body of psychological knowledge.
Experimental approaches . More recently, as a result of particular theoretical developments within psychoanalytic theory and progress in research in psychology and neurophysiology, greater attention has been paid to experimental efforts to study the nature of ongoing imagery or fantasy and daydream experience. New techniques–some involving electrophysiological measurement or systematic inquiry of subjects during sensory isolation, under the influence of special drugs, or during monitoring or vigilance tasks–have led to some increased sophistication and rigor in the study of the “stream of thought” in the normal adult. Recent developments in this area are summarized in Holt (1964) and Singer (1966).
Surprisingly little as yet is known of the range and variation of fantasy in normal adults and children or of differences in the content, frequency, or structure of daydreams among various cultural groups (Singer 1966). There has emerged, however, chiefly from psychoanalysis, a preliminary theoretical formulation of the function of daydreaming in the economy of the personality. Research reflects efforts to examine and test the implications of the theory of fantasy, which derives chiefly from the specific formulations of Freud.
Defensive or cathartic models . One of Freud’s more fascinating insights was his observation that the capacity to delay gratification, a vitally significant step in man’s adaptive development, was somehow linked to his imaginative capacity. Two general conceptions of the relation between thought or fantasy and control mechanisms can be discerned in Freud’s work and in that of most psychoanalytically oriented investigators or learning theorists who have developed the implications of the notion of the relations of thought and delay. One conception stems from Freud’s early paper on the poet and daydreaming (1908), in which he stated that “unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies” and pointed out the degree of similarity between daydreams and night dreams in their wish-fulfilling function. The daydreams that the poet transforms into artistic productions are disguised representations of unfulfilled infantile desires, defenses against direct recognition of these desires. As Freud put it: “Happy people never daydream.”
This view that the daydream is an outgrowth of an unsatisfied wish and is a defense against its direct manifestation pervades much psychoanalytic thinking. Closely related to the defensive function of fantasy but perhaps more precise in formulation is Freud’s second conception that all processes of thought, including fantasy, by allowing partial satisfactions (expenditure of small quantities of energy), partially reduce the drive and thereby permits delay in gross motor discharge. This theory of the catharsis or drive reduction obtained through play and fantasy in children or daydreams in adults has many important implications (see Rapa-port 1956).
In effect, it proposes that where there is a delay in the opportunity to discharge a certain amount of energy through satisfaction of a need or through movements associated with attaining such satisfaction, the fantasied reproduction “in the mind’s eye” of the gratifying activity or associated movements will partially reduce the amount of energy at least enough, say, so that rash or fruitless action will not occur. From a psychoanalytic standpoint (where the emphasis is on the inner origin of stimulation) such partial discharges may effectively control maladaptive overt discharge of many antisocial or asocial tendencies. Thus, regular watching of wrestling or boxing on television may curb man’s tendency to assault his neighbor upon minimal provocation, and the conscious acceptance of daydreams of sexual conquest may effectively prevent rape, whereas inability to experience such thoughts may lead to overt impulse-gratifying behavior that has unfortunate consequences.
Within academic psychology the learning-theory formulation of the catharsis model does not specify the amount of instinctual energy but does emphasize that fantasied behavior has, in effect, secondary-reinforcing qualities that may lead to a lowering of drive strength consequent to engaging in a daydream about the goal object. It is assumed that if a child is hungry he begins to make motor reactions associated with searching for food. To the extent that he can, at an ideational level, reproduce an image of the movements that would gratify his hunger or of his mother coming in with the food, and if just about that time his mother does indeed come in, then the ideational representation acquires secondary-reinforcing properties. Provided his mother comes regularly but perhaps not invariably (intermittent reinforcement being superior in preventing extinction), the fantasy activity will be learned as one means of response in a state of need.
A number of interesting lines of research have been developed in attempts to test the cathartic theory of fantasy and some of the implications of this drive-reduction model. The theory also has some important implications for the logic of pro-jective testing where, for example, one faces the interpretative task of deciding whether the person who provides a certain frequent response pattern to inkblots or photographs is likely to show the same or opposite pattern in overt behavior. In the case of the Rorschach, for example, there is evidence for an inverse relationship between perception of movement on the blots and overt movement, impulsivity, and other ego functions (Rickers-Ovsiankina 1960). Most of the evidence supports Rorschach’s notion that human-movement responses are linked with controlled motility, on the one hand, and imaginative development on the other. An experiment by Page (1957) has provided an important link in this chain by demonstrating that only this human-movement response of all Rorschach factors is significantly associated with reported frequency of daydreaming.
Criticism of the cathartic model. When the focus in the projective method is not on the structural aspect of fantasy and motor behavior but on the relation of specific content to projective fantasy, a different finding emerges. The controversy between the alternative channel and direct expression theories of Thematic Apperception Test interpretation seems to be resolved by the large majority of studies in favor of direct expression. The literature on fantasied aggression as summarized by Buss (1961) and the extensive work by McClelland (1961) and Atkinson (1958) has certainly supported the idea that persons who produce aggressive or achievement-oriented themes behave accordingly in daily life.
An important step in the effort to test the drive-reduction model of fantasy came in Feshbach’s study (1955) in which it was demonstrated that when insulted Ss were given an opportunity to express aggression through storytelling they showed less aggression in subsequent ratings than did a group given no opportunity for fantasied aggressive expression. Feshbach also found that viewing a filmed prize fight after induction of anger would partially reduce later aggressive ratings. It should be noted, however, that the very writing of the stories is perhaps a more motorically involved expression than pure daydreaming, the daily life phenomenon associated with drive reduction.
Where experimental efforts have focused attention not upon experimentally aroused anger but upon the arousal of stress, anxiety, or fear, the cathartic significance of daydream or fantasy activity is less in evidence or unsupported (Singer 1966). These results suggest that when we turn to stress rather than anger as the drive or affect involved, the effects of daydreaming are more complex; engaging in fantasy may enhance anxiety when the future situation is unstructured but may reduce it when a short-term stress is imminent by distracting the person from continued thought.
Particularly telling evidence against a catharsis theory has come in the works of Berkowitz (1964) and Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1963). These studies, concentrating on aggressive expression, seem to offer a body blow to the cathartic theory and to point up the importance of considering the pattern of environmental stimulation more thoroughly in understanding the meaning of fantasy play in relation to direct motor expression. Berkowitz, for example, found that Ss who viewed a movie scene in which a prize fighter was taking a “justifiable” beating showed a heightened tendency to aggressive behavior toward a fellow student soon after the show, compared with Ss who had been told the beating was undeserved [see Aggression, article onpsychological aspects]. The studies by Bandura, Ross, and Ross of modeling behavior indicate, too, that young children aroused to anger by frustration are likely to imitate directly the aggressive behavior of a previously witnessed live or filmed model [see Imitation].
The evidence for a catharsis theory of fantasy seems weak, at best, in view of recent research and a restudying of the problem. The data, of course, are chiefly from the study of aggressive behavior, and in general there has been little concern either with naturalistic daydreaming behavior and its consequences (as against filmed or thematically stimulated responses) or with affects other than anger and aggressive behavior.
Fantasy as a cognitive skill . An alternative approach may be proposed that at least conceptually reconciles the Rorschach data on movement perception and motor inhibition and the results of the direct expression or modeling theories of fantasy aggression. Heinz Hartmann, while developing his concept of the autonomous ego, noted that fantasy may serve to prepare the person for a greater mastery of the outside world through increased insight into his own psychic processes. It seems preferable to go further than Hartmann and begin again with a fresh look at the origin of fantasy and imagery without the burden of concepts of cathectic dynamics or neutralized versus libidinized energy. One may start, instead, by regarding the development of fantasy behavior or daydreaming as a cognitive skill, a capacity for gradual inter-nalization of response and for attending to the ongoing “reverberatory” behavior of one’s brain — responses available to most children. Conceivably, children may differ constitutionally in their capacity to form visual or auditory images, but these differences for the most part account for only a small amount of the variance in subsequent development of daydreaming skills or styles. Special handicaps do exist, and it has been found that congenitally blind children are less imaginative in their spontaneous play and storytelling than otherwise matched sighted children (Singer 1966).
Fantasy play is thus an important feature in the development of children, a part of the continuous assimilation-accommodation pattern, as Piaget put it (1945). There are, however, certain particular factors that increase the likelihood that fantasy play will become an integrated skill, rather than a sporadic response pattern, and, thus, a capacity to manipulate or to attend to an inner dimension, which may be one of man’s greatest assets. Similarly, if we recognize more clearly the potential of man’s inner skills, we may make possible a further advance in man’s fullest use of his capacities.
Factors in development of fantasy . What, then, are some circumstances conducive to fantasy development?
Identification and imitation. The modeling theory suggests that imitation of parents is probably an important element in fantasy development. The child who perceives his parents as benign persons will strive for identification more readily and learn more of their behaviors, and there is some evidence that persons showing more imagination on the Rorschach (human-movement responses) also report that their parents were benign and loving (Singer 1960). Identification with a specific adult figure, usually the mother, who represents inhibition of impulse, socialization, and storytelling, may be an important feature in fostering internalization. Several studies on daydreaming have yielded evidence of more frequent daydreaming by male and female adults who were more closely identified with their mother than with their father or who perceived their father as further from their ideal (Singer 1966). A similar finding was reported by Sharef (1959) in a doctoral dissertation at Harvard: he noted that young men who had a history of being chosen as a mother’s confidant showed greater imaginative or introcep-tive tendencies. Some degree of modeling and imitation caused in part by eagerness to please, by the availability of copying of certain types of responses, and by the parent’s rewarding these responses may foster fantasy skill. A well-known quotation from Goethe serves to make this point:
From father I have looks and build
And the serious conduct of living.
My mother gave me gaiety
And zest for fantasizing.
Opportunity for play. Given the closeness to at least one adult who encourages verbal interchange or fantasy play, a child still requires some opportunity to practice such activities. There are indications that extensive contact with other children is likely to provide less opportunity for such fantasy play unless the children are older and play a quasi-parental role, for example, a much older sister who plays “house” or “school” with a younger child. By and large, the extensive kaleidoscopic ebb and flow of physical motion and varied external stimulation provided by a group of children is most likely to involve a child in external behaviors and afford him little chance to practice fantasy play. A study carried out with children aged six to nine (Singer 1966) produced evidence that indicated that children reporting more fantasy play had significantly fewer older siblings, that is, they tended to be either first-born or only children and not members of large families.
One might argue that daydreaming thus becomes a defense against loneliness. At the same time many children who take great pleasure in elaborate fantasy games and who are eager to share these with others are frustrated by the disorganization of the other children and return to solitary play or, if they have some influence on the group, develop a more organized fantasy game, for example, pirates or detectives. Chance factors of being alone, of being encouraged to read, of storytelling or fantasy making as part of the family tradition as well as cultural aspects that strongly emphasize imaginative exchange or intellectual exploration, achievement motivation, upward mobility in society–all increase the likelihood of extensive involvement in fantasy play by a given child (Singer 1966). In effect, the child who plays extensively by creating fantasy people, situations, imaginary worlds, or scientific make-believe is practicing a complex series of skills related to what Kurt Goldstein has called the “attitude toward the possible.” These children have a more complex vocabulary, develop structural and organizational skills, see relationships that others may have to be taught in school, and, perhaps most important, carve out for themselves a dimension of experience —attentiveness to their own associational flow —which may be a realm they can enter or leave at will. This dimension can, of course, become the basis of an extensive defensive maneuver should the outside world become too stressful or should the child fail to develop positive social skills with his peers. The development of an extensive inner life by no means excludes the possibility of enjoyment and skill in social experience, group games, or sports. It merely provides an additional medium for play and satisfaction. There is as yet no evidence that psychotic patients show any excessive predisposition toward daydreaming. Indeed, chronic patients are often characterized more by an impoverishment of inner living and daydreaming than by the excessive involvement in “private worlds” so often attributed to them [see Defense mechanisms].
Adaptive aspects of fantasy . It is obvious that enhanced vocabulary and abstract skills represent great evolutionary advances in man. But let us also consider the adaptive manifestations of the more “fantastic” aspects of thought, daydreams, and reverie. The Rorschach findings about the inverse relationship between imagination and motor impulsivity are better explained not by a relatively mechanical catharsis theory but by viewing the person who has imagination as having a whole set of alternative responses in addition to motor activity. In a waiting room he need not be so restless (as was found in several studies) if he can provide himself with an inner source of stimulation to engage his interest and provide positive affective experience. He may voluntarily set up an inner sequence (imagining a movie, replaying a baseball game) or he may permit the ongoing stream of consciousness, the reverberatory activity of his brain, to hold his attention. In situations of reduced sensory cues, this capacity may be an asset, as was found in studies of sensory deprivation (Holt 1964). Similarly, it was found (Singer 1966, p. 108) that persons required to monitor a blinking light in a dark room with all external cues reduced were more likely to remain awake and comfortable if at the same time they could engage in free associative talk. When these same persons were limited to monotonous counting, they tended to fall asleep and became quite irritable. There is also evidence that persons who have a history of daydreaming, that is, for whom attention to inner experience is a well-established pattern, are less susceptible to hallucination.
The person who has developed a considerable ability to picture events or scenes concerning people through reading and imaginative play has available a tool for greatly increasing his own response repertory. The ability to imagine a variety of social responses or scenes concerning people may enhance a person’s ability to deal with novel or difficult social demands. Obviously, practice in actual situations is also necessary, but it is possible that such learning will come more quickly to a person who has engaged in some preparatory fantasy. The fact that fantasy originates in play brings it closer to humor and wit and makes it possible for the person who employs fantasy when anxious or in conflict to see a humorous, bizarre, or unusual facet to his dilemma and to obtain at least some temporary positive affective experience or to alleviate the stress through a comical fantasy. The development of an inner cognitive style of differentiated attentiveness to ongoing thoughts, memories, or marginal associations, or of an ability to manipulate such material at will, thus can be seen as an important feature of the over-all ego strength of the personality, a skill, much as is motor ability, empathic capacity, or precision in communication [see HUMOR].
In addition to the research centering on theoretical issues, other areas of significant ongoing experimental work in the field of fantasy may be cited briefly. The extensive work of McClelland interpreting the fantasy content of stories in third-grade readers as evidence of achievement motivation has been particularly fruitful. McClelland’s work has shown, for example, that indications of the degee of achievement motivation expressed in the fantasy products of various countries around the world are highly related to the actual economic development of the country over a period of years (McClelland 1961). These striking results suggest either that the inclusion of such achievement-oriented materials in the stories used in teaching young children stimulates them to become more achievement oriented or, what is more likely, that an already ongoing national achievement-oriented pattern is then consciously or unconsciously reflected in the thematic materials provided children. Most of the work of Atkinson and McClelland has emphasized the nature of motivation rather than the study of the fantasy process for its own sake. McClelland, however, has attempted a formulation of the relationship between degree of deprivation and the occurrence of a fantasy expression of the deprived need.
The greater awareness that during periods of reduced sensory stimulation man becomes increasingly responsive to internally produced stimulation, as well as the methodological advances in the study of night dreaming by electroencephalo-graphic patterns and oculoretinograms, have encouraged studies of man’s waking pattern of ongoing thought. A series of investigations has suggested, for example, that adult Ss who are engaging in daydreaming show relatively little eye movement but that ocular motility increases when attempts at suppression of ongoing thought occur (Singer 1966). Similarly, experimental studies of the relative degree of external stimulation necessary to prevent subjects from actually engaging in passing fantasies also suggest that a remarkable degree of ongoing thought activity occurs, at least for college adults, despite great demands on attention from the outside (Singer 1966). It seems likely that man’s relative willingness or ability to attend to what appears to be an almost continuous ongoing stream of internal reverberatory associative activity may be a significant dimension for personality study [see DREAMS].
As yet, however, relatively little is known of the physiological basis of this stream of thought or of the factors that lead to relative priorities in attention to such internal processes. We also know little in a systematic way of individual differences in daydreaming and the personality correlates of such differences, although some studies have opened the way for further work in these areas. Formal data on whether there are differences between cultural or national groups in frequency, content, and structure of daydreaming or resort to inner living are scant indeed. Singer and McCraven (Singer 1966, pp. 57-63) did find some evidence that American-born subcultural groups (Negro, Jewish, Italian, Irish, German, and Anglo-Saxon) did differ in reported daydream frequency, with the more upwardly mobile groups (or less socially secure ones) showing more fantasy activity. An earlier comparison of American-born Irish and Italian schizophrenic adults by Singer and Opler also yielded evidence of differences in degree of fantasy activity between persons of differing cultural background (Singer 1966, pp. 64-65).
Atkinson, John W. (editor) 1958 Motives in Fantasy, Action, and Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.
Banduha, Albert; Ross, Dorothea; and Ross, Sheila A. 1963 Vicarious Reinforcement and Imitative Learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology67: 601–607.
Berkowitz, Leonard 1964 The Effects of Observing Violence. Scientific American210 : 35–41.
Buss, Arnold H. 1961 The Psychology of Aggression. New York: Wiley.
Feshbach, Seymour (1955) 1958 The Drive-reducing Function of Fantasy Behavior. Pages 160-175 in John W. Atkinson (editor), Motives in Fantasy, Action, and Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.
Freud, Sigmund (1908)1925 The Relation of the Poet to Day-dreaming. Volume 4, pages 173-183 in Sig-mund Freud, Collected Papers. London: Hogarth. → First published as “Der Dichter und das Phantasieren.”
Freud, Sigmund (1911)1959 Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning. Volume 12, pages 215-226 in Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. London: Hogarth. → First published as Formulierungen iiber die zwei Prinzipien des psychischen Geschehens.
Holt, Robert R. 1964 Imagery: The Return of the Ostracized. American Psychologist19 : 254–264.
Mcclelland, David C. 1961 The Achieving Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.
Mckellar, Peter 1957 Imagination and Thinking: A Psychological Analysis. London: Cohen & West.
Page, Horace A. 1957 Studies in Fantasy: Daydreaming Frequency and Rorschach Scoring Categories. Journal of Consulting Psychology21 : 111–114.
Piaget, Jean (1945) 1951 Play, Dreams, and Imitation in Childhood. New York: Norton; London: Heine-mann. → First published in French as La formation du symbole chez l’enfant. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Norton.
Rapaport, David (editor and translator) 1956 Organization and Pathology of Thought: Selected Sources. Austen Riggs Foundation, Monograph No. 1. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Rickers-Ovsiankina, Maria C. (editor) 1960 Rorschach Psychology. New York: Wiley.
Sharef, M. R. 1959 An Approach to the Theory and Measurement of Introception. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard Univ.
Singer, Jerome L. 1960 The Experience Type: Some Behavioral Correlates and Theoretical Implications. Pages 223-259 in Maria C. Rickers-Ovsiankina (editor), Rorschach Psychology. New York: Wiley.
Singer, Jerome L. 1966 Daydreaming: An Introduction to the Experimental Study of Inner Experience. New York: Random House.
A fantasy is a product of the imagination in the form of a script in the theatrical or cinematic sense and deployed in support of a wish-fulfillment. It may be a conscious creation, a daydream created by the subject to procure an imaginary satisfaction that is erotic, aggressive, self-flattering, or self-aggrandizing in nature. This wish-fulfilling function likens the daydream, or reverie, to night dreams, but it may also be compared to symptoms or behavior with similar aims. It must therefore be supposed that all these manifestations have a common origin, namely unconscious fantasy.
The term Phantasie was part of everyday language, where it signified "fancy," "imagination." It appeared very early in Freud's writings, notably in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), where he noted the frequency of daydreams among hysterics. However, the word soon took on a more precise meaning and the concept was expanded centrally in the burgeoning science of psychoanalysis. In a letter dated May 2, 1897, to Wilhelm Fliess, Freud wrote, "I have gained a sure inkling of the structure of hysteria. Everything goes back to the reproduction of scenes. Some can be obtained directly, others always by way of fantasies set up in front of them. The fantasies stem from things that have been heard but understood subsequently, and all their material is of course genuine." (p. 239). Later, in Draft M (May 25, 1897), we find this: "Fantasies arise from an unconscious combination of things experienced and heard, according to certain tendencies. These tendencies are toward making inaccessible the memory from which symptoms have emerged or might emerge. . . . As a result of the construction of fantasies like this (in periods of excitation), the mnemic symptoms cease" (1985a [1887-1904], p. 247).
Already, then, at this early moment, Freud posited unconscious fantasy as the source of the symptom, of the dream (soon to be elaborated on in The Interpretation of Dreams,1900a), of daydreams, parapraxes, and so on. But the claim that "all [this] material is of course genuine" was significantly revised. On September 21, 1897, he famously announced to Fliess, "I no longer believe in my neurotica " (p. 264)—that is, in an etiology for hysteria attributable in all cases to a trauma actually experienced during childhood. This is not to say that Freud now abandoned his seduction theory. But in the wake of a sudden disillusionment, he entered a long period leading to his recognition that the traumatic event was never recorded exactly per se, and never endured in unmodified form but, quite to the contrary, was subject to incessant reworking after the fact. From that moment, indeed, Freud was convinced that "there are no 'indications of reality' in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect" (p. 264); or in other words between historical (or event-defined) reality and fantasy. It was possible, then, that in some cases the hysterical symptom was the product of "pure fantasy"; seduction nevertheless existed, especially in view of the fact that a child might read this connotation into "innocent" events.
The birth of the psychoanalytical concept of fantasy may thus be dated 1897; in Freud's self-analysis, its advent coincides with that of the Oedipus complex. As Freud wrote to Fliess on October 15, 1897, "I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood" (p. 272). This twin birth was acknowledged by Freud a quarter of a century later in An Autobiographical Study (1925d): "When, however, I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only phantasies which my patients had made up or which I myself had perhaps forced upon them, I was for some time completely at a loss. ...When I had pulled myself together, I was able to draw the right conclusions from my discovery: namely, that the neurotic symptoms were not related directly to actual events but to wishful phantasies, and that as far as the neurosis was concerned psychical reality was of more importance than material reality....I had in fact stumbled for the first time upon the Oedipus complex" (p. 34).
There are references to fantasy throughout Freud's work, especially prior to the major theoretical revision of the 1920s. In his paper on "Screen Memories" (1899a), he revealed the role of adolescent fantasies in the work of reconstructing childhood memories. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), based on the idea of the dream as a wish-fulfillment, was itself a study of nighttime expressions of fantasy, while Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" (1907a) and "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" (1908e) were centered on the eruptions of fantasy during waking life. "Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality" (1908a) was a reconsideration, ten years after its initial formulation, of the theory of symptom production through fantasy. In spite of its title, "On the Sexual Theories of Children" (1908c) also examined the role of fantasy: certain "theories" were constructed by the child to explain the mysteries of sexuality, conception, and birth, but they were in effect also imaginary productions similar to reveries. In the "Wolf Man" case history (1918b ), Freud, returning at length to the problem of the relationship between event-defined "historical reality" and fantasy creation, ended by re-embracing the notion of "phylogenetically" transmitted primal fantasies, previously discussed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a). Of special importance too is the essay "'A Child is Being Beaten"' (1919e), where Freud analyzed the genesis and structure of a particular fantasy in which erotic pleasure was tied to the evocation of punishment experienced by a (different) child.
The notion of fantasy nevertheless remained rather vague in Freud's work. It presented a number of problems for him, especially that of the relationship between fantasy and representation. More generally, there was the question of the role played by fantasy in mentation. For Freud, the instinct was the living source of all mental activity, as he clearly asserted in The Interpretation of Dreams. The dream was a wish-fulfillment, but the dual action of primary processes and secondary revision could bring about transpositions and distortions that permitted the latent thoughts of the dream to cross over into the dream's manifest content, to transform from unconscious fantasies into explicit images better able to break through the barrier of the censorship. In Chapter 7 of The Interpretation, Freud extended this model to psychic work as a whole in order to account for the transition from fantasy to mental representation, which were closely akin because of their common origin. The result, paradoxically, was that the difference between them was clearly pointed up: whereas the fantasy was an internal formation, created without reference to reality, mental representations drew their very substance from their relationship with the outside world. In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b), Freud reiterated that fantasy served the pleasure principle exclusively, while mental representation, though it might transpose fantasy, answered strictly by the reality principle. Both the close kinship and the basic difference between fantasy and mental representation are easy to discern in Freud's account of hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, where he describes that founding moment when the infant obtains satisfaction by hallucinating the real, but absent, agent of satisfaction, and then, since the need remains, begins to "represent" that absence (the representation of the object arises from its very absence). W. R. Bion was a leader among those authors who have sought to thus develop a theory of mental activity designed to illuminate the relationship between fantasy and representation.
The fact remains that back in 1897 Freud ran into a difficulty that continued to occupy him for the rest of his life and is still a crucial question for psychoanalysis in the twenty-first century: If instinctual forces are indeed the live source of wishes or fantasies, which mediate them, how can the forms of those wishes be explained, and more specifically how is it that typical forms, seemingly derived from a common matrix, occur very widely among people whose history and psychic make-up vary considerably? Freud posed this question repeatedly in his account of the "Wolf Man" (1918b ), where he offered a meticulous, albeit hypothetical reconstruction of events that took place in his patient's life between the ages of eighteen months and four years old in order to explain his subsequent pathology. Yet Freud continued to feel that such an explanation, based on a person's real history, left something to be desired. He consequently appealed to an even earlier "historical reality"—that of the human species as a whole: "It seems to me quite possible that all the things that are told to us today in analysis as phantasy . . . were once real occurrences in the primaeval times of the human family, and that children in their phantasies are simply filling in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth" (1916-1917a, p. 371). This echoed the "fiction" Freud had developed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a) according to which, at the time of the "primal horde," the sons killed their father and committed incest with their mother; ever since, the unconscious memory of that primal drama has left its stamp on every human being.
It is not unreasonable to have reservations about this speculation. Nevertheless, clinical psychoanalysis has verified the role of "fantasies" that can be qualified as "primal," however one regards their historicity, in that they are the basis of every individual fantasy. Freud mentioned three varieties: "I call such fantasies—of the observation of sexual intercourse between the parents, of seduction, of castration, and others—'primal fantasies"' (1915f, p. 269). But this enumeration should not be looked upon as definitive; it should no doubt include the fantasy of a return to the mother's breast (for further discussion of primal fantasies, see Laplanche and Pontalis).
Among post-Freudian developments, Melanie Klein's contribution is the most important. Continuing the line of enquiry that Freud opened up in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c) and reorganized after 1920 by introducing the life and death instincts, Klein assigned a leading role to the play of fantasy in the mental life of young children; indeed, she even seemed to make the apprehension of reality subordinate to fantasy in the context of a battle royal between love and hate that aroused massive anxiety. The beginning of mental life was envisaged by Klein as the scene of a tragedy played out by fantasies of invasion, cannibalism, deadly attacks on the breast and by the breast, explosion, laceration, and so forth. This approach was further advanced by some of Klein's followers, notably Donald Meltzer. Significant theoretical support was supplied by Susan Isaacs in her paper "On the Nature and Function of Phantasy" (1948).
A very different approach was taken by Jacques Lacan, who compared fantasy to freezing the frame of a moving picture. In contrast to the Kleinian view, the emphasis here was on the defensive function of fantasies, which sought to "freeze" the evocation of violent scenes, and first and foremost those responsible for castration anxiety. For Lacan, the neurotic fantasy was an attempt, always fruitless, to respond to the enigma of the desire of the other. However varied individual expressions of fantasy themes might be, the aim of analysis was always to circumscribe the typical basic fantasy of each analysand, its place and role in the symbolic structure that determined that analysand's particular mode of gratification (jouissance ).
Michèle Perron-Borelli (1997) has taken an entirely different tack, providing a general overview of fantasy in the context of an original theoretical reformulation of the problem. Noting that every fantasy is centered on a representation of action, whether active in nature (e.g., seducing) or passive (being seduced), she defines fantasy in terms of a three-part structure comprised of an agent, an action, and an object of the action. This structure is analogous, for Perron-Borelli, to the basic grammatical subject/verb/object pattern; this is no accident, perhaps, if one accepts that language reflects the development of thought itself, and its origins in fantasy. All fantasy activity, therefore, and indeed all thought, may be conceived of as a system of transformations of this basic structure by a variety of means: changing of places by the subject and the object relative to the action (change from activity to passivity or vice versa), the replacement of the object or the subject, the assumption by the subject of the viewpoint of an outside observer; and so on. In this view, the subject comes into being and develops by virtue of these transformations themselves. At a deeper level, the starting-point is sought in a "primal fantasy matrix" in the autoerotic life of the infant.
See also: Act/action; Adolescent crisis; Amnesia; Anxiety; Archaic mother; Autism; Body image; Castration complex; Combined parental figure; Creativity; Depression; Family; Fantasy, formula of; Fantasy (reverie); Graph of Desire; Group analysis; Idea/representation; Identification; Identification fantasies; Internal/external reality; Internal object; Masochism; Myth of origins; Mythology and psychoanalysis; Need for causality; Neurotica ; Object a ; Oedipus complex, early; Perversion; Phallic woman; Pregnancy, fantasy of; Primal fantasies; Primal scene; Primal, the; Projective identification; Real trauma; Reparation; Rescue fantasies; Reverie; Screen memory; Seduction scenes; Symptom-formation; Unconscious fantasy; "Vagina dentata," fantasy of.
Fain, Michel. (1971). Préludeà la vie fantasmatique. Revue française de psychanalyse 35 (2-3), 291-364.
Freud, Sigmund. (1899a). Screen memories. SE, 3: 299-322.
——. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4-5.
——. (1907a). Delusions and dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva." SE, 9: 1-95.
——. (1908a). Hysterical phantasies and their relation to bisexuality. SE, 9: 156-166.
——. (1908c). On the sexual theories of children. SE, 9: 205-226.
——. (1908e). Creative writers and day-dreaming. SE, 9: 141-153.
——. (1911b). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. SE, 12: 213-226.
——. (1912-13a). Totem and taboo. SE, 13: 1-161.
——. (1915c). Instincts and their vicissitudes. SE, 14: 109-140.
——. (1915f). A case of paranoia running counter to the psycho-analytic theory of the disease. SE, 14: 261-272.
——. (1916-17a). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. SE, 15-16.
——. (1918b ). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.
——. (1919e). "A child is being beaten": A contribution to the study of the origin of sexual perversions. SE, 17: 175-204.
——. (1925d ). An autobiographical study. SE, 20: 1-74.
Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Joseph. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.
Isaacs, Susan. (1948). On the nature and function of phantasy. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 29, 73-97.
Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1968). Fantasy and the origins of sexuality. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49, 1ff. (Original work published 1964)
Perron-Borelli, Michèle. (1997). Dynamique du fantasme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Perron-Borelli, Michèle, and Perron, Roger. (1997). Fantasme, Action, Pensée. Algiers:Éditions de la Société algérienne de psychologie.
Hayman, Arlene. (1989). What do we mean by a "phantasy"? International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 70, 105-114.
Sandler, Joseph, and Sandler, Anne-Marie. (1994). Phantasy and its transformations: A contemporary Freudian view. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 75, 387-394.
Shapiro, Theodore. (1990). Unconscious fantasy: Introduction. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 38, 39-46.
The term reverie refers to an imaginary representation created to help realize a desire. The term Phantasie was used by Freud to designate such mental activity collectively, whether conscious or unconscious. In French the term fantasme prevailed in psychoanalytic use, for it was felt that the term fantaisie was too marked by current usage, where it connotes the idea of capriciousness or gratuitousness. However, following Daniel Lagache (1964), the term fantaisie came to refer to imaginary conscious or preconscious creations, without ignoring their continuity with the unconscious fantasies they reflect.
Daydreams, which everyone experiences, are the clearest examples of conscious or preconscious reveries. In general they explicitly satisfy a desire, providing some form of imaginary satisfaction, whether it be erotic, aggressive, ambitious, self-aggrandizing, or uplifting. It is not even unusual for people to visualize painful or humiliating experiences to their own advantage. In all these cases the narcissistic dimension of the process is obvious.
There are references to such daydreams in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), primarily in the case study of Anna O., written by Josef Breuer. Freud wrote about daydreams in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). For example, when analyzing his dream about the "botanical monograph," he relates a daydream during which he imagines that, afflicted by glaucoma, he travels incognito to Berlin for an operation and experiences considerable pleasure in listening to the surgeon extol the anesthetic qualities of cocaine (thus being compensated for the pain Freud experienced through being too late to be recognized as the one who discovered its properties). The "fantasies (Phantasien ), or daydreams, are the immediate predecessors of hysterical symptoms. ...Like dreams they are wish-fulfillments; like dreams they are based in large part on our infantile experiences; like dreams they enjoy a certain relaxation of the censorship for their creations."
According to Freud, a daydream is initially the expression of an unconscious fantasy; then, it is used as available material among the latent thoughts used by dreams. However, as he noted, there is an essential difference between night dreams and daydreams: the first is hallucinatory, the second is not, and the person remains more or less clearly aware that his daydream is a an escape from a reality that is not completely suspended.
This distinction can be blurred or even disappear entirely. Freud analyzes this phenomenon in his detailed commentary on Wilhelm Jensen's Gradiva (1907a). In the same period, in "Creative Writers and Daydreaming" (1908e ), he discusses the function of daydreaming in the genesis of the literary work, and later, in "Family Romances" (1909c ), he foresees the situation where daydreams are used by the child to avoid the oedipal conflict by imagining himself to be adopted, to be really the child of a king and queen.
Robert Desoille (1961) developed an original method of psychotherapy based on the development and analysis of the patient's daydreams during therapy. For some patients and under certain circumstances, analytic psychodrama can create scenarios that are related to daydreams.
See also: "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming"; Creativity; Ego ideal; Family romance; Fantasy; Phylogenetic Fantasy, A: Overview of the Transference Neuroses ; Psychoanalysis of Fire, The ; Reverie; Unconscious fantasy.
Anargyros-Klinger, Annie; Reiss-Schimmel, Ilana; Wainrib, Steve. (1998). Création, psychanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Desoille, Robert. (1961). Théorie et Pratique du Rêve-éveillédirigé. Geneva: Le Mont-Blanc.
Lagache, Daniel. (1964). Fantaisie, réalité, vérité. Revue française c de psychanalyse, 28 (4), 515-538.
247. Fantasy (See also Enchantment.)
- Aladdin’s lamp when rubbed, genie appears to do possessor’s bidding. [Arab. Lit.: Arabian Nights, “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”]
- Alice undergoes fantastic adventures, such as dealing with the “real” Queen of Hearts. [Br. Lit.: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Through the Looking Glass ]
- Alnaschar dreams of the wealth he will realize from the sale of his glassware. [Arab. Lit.: Benét, 26]
- Arabian Nights compilation of Middle and Far Eastern tales. [Arab. Lit.: Parrinder, 26]
- Back to Methuselah England in the late twenty-second century is a bureaucracy administered by Chinese men and African women. [Br. Drama: Shaw Back to Methuselah in Magill III, 82]
- Baggins, Bilbo Hobbit who wanders afar and brings back the One Ring of Power to The Shire. [Br. Lit.: The Hobbit ]
- Bloom, Leopold enlivens his uneventful life with amorous daydreams. [Irish Lit.: Joyce Ulysses in Magill I, 1040]
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magical car helps track down criminals. [Children’s Lit.: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ]
- Dorothy flies via tornado to Oz. [Am. Lit.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ]
- Dream Children in a reverie, Charles Lamb tells stories to his two imaginary children. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 287]
- Fantasia music comes to life in animated cartoon. [Am. Cinema: Fantasia in Disney Films, 38–45]
- Harvey six-foot rabbit who appears only to a genial drunkard. [Am. Lit.: Benét, 444]
- Jurgen regaining his lost youth, he has strange “adventures with a host of mythical persons. [Am. Lit.: Jurgen in Magill I, 464]
- Land of the Giants a Gulliver’s Travels in outer space. [TV: Terrace, II, 10–11]
- Little Prince, The travels to Earth from his star; fable by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943). [Fr. Lit.: Benét, 889]
- Lord of the Rings, The “feigned history” of the Hobbits; epic trilogy written by J. R. R. Tolkein. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1013]
- Millionaire, The mysterious Croesus bestows fortunes on unsuspecting individuals. [TV: Terrace, II, 97–98]
- Mitty, Walter timid man who imagines himself a hero. [Am. Lit.: Benét, 1006; Am. Cinema and Drama: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ]
- Narnia kingdom in which fantasy cycle of seven tales by C. S. Lewis takes place. [Children’s Lit.: Fisher, 289–290]
- O’Gill, Darby befriends dwarfdom. [Am. Cinema: Darby O’Gill and the Little People in Disney Films, 159–162]
- Pan, Peter escapes to Never Never Land to avoid growing up. [Br. and Am. Drama: Benét, 778]
- Poppins, Mary enchanted nanny guides her charges through fey adventures. [Children’s Lit.: Mary Poppins ; Am. Cinema: Mary Poppins in Disney Films, 226–232]
- Thirteen Clocks, The beautiful princess is won by a disguised prince who fulfills her guardian’s task with the aid of laughter that turns to jewels. [Am. Lit.: Thurber The Thirteen Clocks in Weiss, 462]
- Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The adventures in land “somewhere over the rainbow.” [Am. Lit.: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ]
fan·ta·sy / ˈfantəsē/ • n. (pl. -sies) 1. the faculty or activity of imagining things, esp. things that are impossible or improbable: his research had moved into the realm of fantasy. ∎ the product of this faculty or activity: the scene is clearly fantasy. ∎ a fanciful mental image, typically one on which a person dwells at length or repeatedly and which reflects their conscious or unconscious wishes. ∎ an idea with no basis in reality: it is a misleading fantasy to suggest that the bill can be implemented. ∎ a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, esp. in a setting other than the real world. 2. a musical composition, free in form, typically involving variation on an existing work or the imaginative representation of a situation or story; a fantasia.
A set of mental images that generally have no basis in reality.
A fantasy is inspired by imagination characterized by mental images that do not necessarily have any relationship to reality. In psychoanalysis , fantasy is regarded as a defense mechanism . For example, after being reprimanded by a supervisor, a worker may fantasize about taking over the company and firing the supervisor. Similarly, a child may fantasize about running away from home in retaliation against her parents for punishing her.
Vivid fantasies are often a part of childhood , diminishing as a child grows older. In the majority of individuals, fantasy is not a cause for concern; as long as the fantasizer is aware that the fantasy is not real, the formation of these mental images may be considered normal . When the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, however, it is possible that some form of mental illness is present. When the individual regards his fantasy as reality, it has become an hallucination . In such situations, the hallucination may be a symptom of schizophrenia , and professional evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist is required.
Klinger, Eric. Daydreaming: Using Waking Fantasy and Imagery for Self-Knowledge and Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1990.
"What Your Fantasies Reveal About You." American Health (April 1995): 68+.