Nov. 15, 2011 at 9:39 AM ET
When the new "Twilight" film opens, fans will be lining up hours before to make sure they get in. Others will be steering clear.
And that won’t have anything to do with movie reviews or the comments of friends. Some folks just aren’t wired to enjoy flights of fantasy, a new study suggests.
It’s all got to do with how we experience fantasy, said study co-author Russell Webster, a doctoral student in social psychology at Kansas State University. Webster’s study was published in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality.
Webster had noticed that while some friends loved to read fantasy novels others just hated them -- and he wondered why. One possibility was that people who hated fantasy just didn’t have good imaginations. Another was that people couldn’t accept the rules of an imaginary world and immerse themselves in it.
So Webster designed some experiments to look at how people experienced fantasy, which he defined as a type of narrative -- such as a book, film, piece of art -- that included supernatural, unreal or impossible aspects. He distinguished fantasy from science fiction because, he says, science fiction tends to come with a logical explanation for the worlds it creates.
Webster and his co-author gathered up a group of volunteers and asked them to fill out questionnaires designed to ferret out those who had a tendency to fantasize and daydream.
Then the researchers ran two similar experiments.
In the first, volunteers were given one of two narratives to read and think about: one a fantasy, the other realistic. In the fantasy, the writer has acquired the ability to fly and the narrative describes the feeling of soaring over mountains and then coming down and landing on beautiful field of green grass. The realistic narrative describes a sunrise and includes passages that detail the appearance of the sky with colors bursting out from the sun.
In a second experiment, volunteers were shown and asked to dwell upon one of two paintings: a man sitting in a thatched hut or a man meditating while floating in the air above some mountains.
After each experiment, the volunteers were asked to describe the images that the narratives sparked. The researchers were surprised to discover that the intensity and vividness of the images had nothing to do with a person’s proneness to flights of fantasy.
But, there was a clear difference between people who were prone to fantasizing and daydreaming and those who were not. People who were comfortable with fantasy tended to be more absorbed by what they read and saw. They also tended to have an emotional reaction. Many said they felt good after reading the narratives or looking at the paintings.
Another interesting feature of the fantasy prone people was that even when they were confronted with a realistic narrative or painting, they inserted fantastical elements when they mulled things over. “On their own they began to picture themselves flying while watching the sun rise,” Webster said.
Webster isn’t sure why it is that some people aren’t comfortable with suspending the rules of reality so they can lose themselves in a fantasy story. That’s a subject for future research he says.
Do you love the fantasy genre, or hate it? If you love it -- what's your fave?