Close your eyes and think of what your loved one looks like when he or she is not around. What is their hair color? What’s their shape of face, nose, and mouth? Did you manage to do that?
Probably yes. Usually, it is not very difficult. A person can easily see with the „mind’s eye“ a person or object that is not around at the moment. Such mental images are mental representations that appear in the imagination. And they are not limited to images. Most people can hum a favorite song in their mind, taste a lemon, smell freshly cut grass, touch sandpaper, and even recall the sensations experienced during some physical activity.
The imagination is the mental process of recreating previously perceived objects or creating new ones by combining known elements. The imagination updates our previous experiences in the form of images and therefore there is a close relationship between imagination and pictorial memory. Imaginative memory gives an exact reproduction of a past experience, while imagination gives a generalized image in which details are blurred or new images are created from known elements. Imagination can be understood as a creative transformation of previous experience. It does not give an objective reconstruction of the past but a free reproduction of past images. The transformations may be so significant that the presented image does not resemble the given reality at all.
Many researchers point out that people’s memories of past emotional states or emotional events can be partially reconstructed (interpreted) through the prism of current evaluations of specific events. „Like memories of everyday events, emotional memories change over time and may be influenced by post factum experiences and evaluations.“ For example, Holberg and Holmes found in published research as early as 1994 that husbands whose marriages became less happy over time recalled early marital relationships more negatively than they initially did.
Everyone, based on his or her knowledge and experiences, may form images of what he or she desires, what he or she dreams of, but which does not exist in reality at the moment or may not even exist in the future. However, images are not a false representation of reality and transformations do not lead to a false knowledge of reality. By creating new images we counteract the patterns of human action and thinking and look for new, more beneficial solutions.
Everyone has an imagination, but not everyone has an equal one. How we use it depends on many factors. It is influenced by the way our nervous system works, by past experiences, by our emotional development, but also by less „significant“ phenomena such as air pressure, humidity, or what we ate the day before. The work of imagination is affected in the same way as the general emotional state. Are we in a low mood? Imagination will give us gloomy visions. In a great mood? Visions will be energetic and optimistic. Imagination plays a huge role in human life because thanks to it we can shape our personality. Achieve good results in school, work. Our imagination through motivation to certain actions can bring us professional success. Imagining that we are passing the test or getting into desired studies we will mobilize ourselves to act in this direction.
Imagination also warns us about various dangers. We can avoid many annoyances, troubles when imagination tells us what can be a consequence of rash, unwise actions. Imagination can make us sad or cheer us up. Sometimes, despite us, we imagine unbelievable things, because someone is late for an appointment, when in fact nothing happens, and the person simply forgot about the meeting. We need imagination for normal functioning in everyday life, for proper relations between people, for learning, personal development, developing of our interests.
Mental imagery is of interest to psychologists in both research and therapeutic areas. Reflecting on their importance for human emotional functioning, it is worth using a metaphor proposed by Stephen Kosslyn and his colleagues, who compare imaginings to „seeing with the mind’s eye“ or „hearing with the mind’s ear“.
Thus, mental imagery is considered to be an experience resembling sensory perception but taking place in the absence of sensory stimuli. Moreover, it has also been observed that imaginations rely on the same mechanisms that memory relates to one’s past. Peter Lang proposed in his theory of imagination to treat it as a basis for therapeutic work aimed at modification of emotional reactions (e.g., reduction of anxiety). This is possible thanks to the ability of mental representations to activate networks of information about situations or stimuli that evoke emotions: their perceptual and semantic properties, but also physiological and behavioral reactions in response to these situations.
Neuropsychologists estimate that pictorial imagery activates 90 percent of the same brain regions responsible for actual perceptual tasks. That the same brain regions are involved in imagining and acting is also supported by the findings of Peter Dominey and his team at the French Stem Cell and Brain Research Institute. In this study, patients with brain-damaging Parkinson’s disease were asked to repeat a sequence of finger movements. As expected, they performed them more slowly than healthy subjects. Surprisingly, however, they also took longer to imagine the activity.Stephen Kosslyn and Samuel Moulton of Harvard University believe that one of the most remarkable aspects of imagination is that a person can use it to access his or her implicit memory, that is, the memory whose manifestations are found in behavior rather than in the conscious reproduction of remembered information. For example, it has been shown that imagining the action of reaching for an object takes a similar amount of time as performing it. In another study, participants in one group were asked to imagine walking a certain distance and pressing a button when they reached their destination. The other group actually performed this task. The running times of both groups were similar.
However, when the subjects were asked to do the same thing but with an imagined or actual load on their backs, imagining walking the distance took longer than actually walking it. Walking the distance, on the other hand, took the same amount of time as without the load. The imaginings did not take into account that one could simply put more energy into performing the task, but thus maintain a pace equal to that without the extra weight.
Kosslyn and Moulton thus suggest that imagination is not a simple representation of the contents of memory, but rather a reflection of our expectations, assuming, for example, that people with a load go slower.
Through these processes, we create a vision of the future, observe it with an inner eye, and… can reduce our fears. Because if someone can calmly, sitting in a chair, with a cup of tea, imagine in detail a future unpleasant circumstance, to a certain extent he has this matter behind him. Realizing the worst things that are likely to happen allows one to survive them in „laboratory“, safe conditions and produces an anxiety-weary effect. The worst things are new situations when we don’t know how to act. Experiencing something in your imagination makes the conditions no longer new, and thus less frightening.
Here comes our LUMEUS training. It is heavily based on the above findings. Created by Dagmar Herzog training program works on a similar principle. It consists of powerful emotional exercises that reduce anxiety and stress, boost self-confidence, and stimulate metabolism. The uniqueness of it is that the spoken visualizations and the film music are composed especially for those Harmonies. Together, they trigger strong emotions in the listener and lead quickly and permanently to a positive change in behavior. By experiencing positive feelings in the visualizations – which are fantasy journeys that evoke emotions in combination with classical music – adults and children learn to reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive moods themselves.
Most perceptions are formed intentionally when they are needed for some reason. This intentionality is also one of the reasons why people usually have no problem distinguishing between imaginings and perceptions. Cases in which such difficulties do arise, however, usually involve people who are hallucinating. Research by Dominic Ffytche of King’s College has shown that when hallucinations occur, regions of the brain responsible for visual processing are aroused – for example, color hallucinations activate areas of the brain associated with color vision. However, this is a special case. So why aren’t imaginings usually mistaken for actual perceptions?
Psychologists Michael Eysenck and Mark Keane note that imaginings typically contain less detail than percepts – subjects describe them as similar to blurry photographs without clear boundaries.
„Imagination is more important even than knowledge“. Why? Because knowledge is limited, while imagination can encompass the whole world. This may be a far-fetched conclusion, but even considering the problems that using imagination can sometimes cause, it seems that the benefits outweigh the risks. Apart from enhancing memory, the possibility to train different skills, or visualize goals to achieve, the most important use of imagination is the possibility to break away from everyday life.