Absorption experiences and Imaginary Companions: Bial Foundation funded random postal and web-based surveys

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Report on the overall results of two surveys in a research project funded by the Bial Foundation in the 2008 bursary. A random postal survey and a web-based survey were conducted in which participants responded to a questionnaire into which items from the Tellegen Absorption Scale were embedded, extended by estimates of frequency of experiences, and additional items we included on childhood-based imaginary companion experiences and a variety of other exceptional experiences.

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Absorption experiences and Imaginary Companions: Bial Foundation funded random postal and web-based surveys

  1. 1. Nancy L. Zingrone, Carlos S. Alvarado & Natasha Agee University of Virginia IRB#2009-0260-00 Funded by the Bial Foundation
  2. 2.  Absorption: “a full commitment of available perceptual, motoric, imaginative and ideational resources to a unified representation of the attentional object” (Tellegen & Atkinson, 1974, p. 274).  Imaginary companions: “an invisible character, named and referred to in conversation with other persons or played with directly for a period of time, at least several months, having an air of reality for the child but no apparent objective basis” (Svendsen, 1934, p. 988).
  3. 3.  Absorption has been related to: ◦ Hypnotic susceptibility ◦ Fantasy proneness ◦ Dissociation ◦ Openness to experience ◦ Mystical experiences ◦ Eidetic imagery ◦ Synesthesia ◦ Self-reported parapsychological experiences (e.g., OBEs, aura vision, apparition experiences, etc.)
  4. 4.  Experiencing Imaginary Companions has been related to: ◦ Absorption in general ◦ Attentional focusing (a facet of absorption) ◦ Hypnotizability ◦ Creativity ◦ Imagery and daydreaming ◦ Dissociation ◦ Hallucinations
  5. 5.  Self-reported parapsychological experiences have been related to: ◦ Absorption ◦ Dissociation ◦ Fantasy-proneness ◦ Dream recall ◦ Depersonalization ◦ Imaginary companions
  6. 6.  Tellegen’s Absorption Scale (TAS) ◦ True / False & Frequency of Experience  Diener’s Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS)  Items constructed by us on: ◦ Features of the Imaginary Companion (IC) experiences ◦ Demographics, medical questions ◦ Parapsychological and other experiences
  7. 7.  While watching a movie, a TV show, or a play, I may become so involved that I may forget about myself and my surroundings and experience the story as if it were real and as if I were taking part in it.  If I wish I can imagine that my body is so heavy that I could not move it if I wanted to.
  8. 8. True False If true, how often? Very Rarely Rarely Occasionally Frequently Very Frequently
  9. 9.  In most ways my life is close to my ideal.  The conditions of my life are excellent.  I am satisfied with life.  So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.  If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.
  10. 10.  Strongly Disagree  Disagree  Slightly Disagree  Neither Agree or Disagree  Slightly Agree  Agree  Strongly Agree
  11. 11.  Age  Gender  Ethnicity  Marital Status  Birth Order  Handedness  Religiousness  Head Injury  Headache
  12. 12.  Dream Recall  Disturbing Dreams  Lucid Dreams  Waking ESP  Dream ESP  Out of Body Experiences  Experience of Apparitions  Aura Vision
  13. 13.  Mystical Experiences  Déjà vu  Synesthesia-Like Experiences of Colors with Numbers and/or Letters  Synesthesia-Like Experiences of Colors with Music and/or Sounds
  14. 14.  Have you ever had a special sort of dream in which you knew during the dream that you were dreaming and felt that you possessed all your waking faculties?  Have you ever had, while awake, a strong feeling, impression, or “vision” that a previously unexpected event had happened, was happening, or was going to happen, and learned later that you were right?
  15. 15. Never Rarely Occasionally Frequently Most of the time
  16. 16.  Study 1: ◦ Random Survey of Richmond, Virginia  3000 Questionnaires Sent via post to randomly chosen residents of Richmond (1.6% of the overall population)  262 respondents (9% return rate)  Study 2: ◦ Web-based administration to English- speaking individuals  Marketed via the “Study of Human Experiences” website, chat lists, web-portals  622 respondents
  17. 17.  that TAS scores would be higher for individuals who claimed to have adult memories of childhood imaginary companions in both the random postal and the web-based samples  that TAS frequency ratings would be higher for individuals who claimed to have adult memories of childhood imaginary companions in both the random postal and the web-based samples
  18. 18.  that TAS scores and TAS frequency ratings would correlate positively and significantly with frequency ratings of seemingly psychic, dream-related, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences  That IC experients would obtain significantly higher percentages of “yes” responses to the other experience questions than those individuals who had not experienced imaginary companions in childhood
  19. 19.  higher mean scores on the TAS and the TAS frequency rating for web than postal  higher percentage of IC experients for web than postal  higher percentages of “yes” responses on seemingly psychic, dream- related, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences for web than postal
  20. 20.  Relationship of demographic variables to: ◦ Presence/absence of IC experience ◦ Presence/absence of Dream experiences ◦ Presence/absence of Parapsychological Experiences  Pattern of characteristics / features of the IC experience  Relationship of SWLS scores to TAS scores, and presence / absence / frequency of all experiences
  21. 21.  52% married  80% white  57% female  52 years old (Range = 19-89)  37% First Born  83% Right-handed  87% had never suffered a head injury  42% rarely had headaches  42% moderately religious
  22. 22.  “white poodle”  “humanoid animal”  “I knew he was imaginary but I would just talk to him.”  “Her name was Molly and she was very real to me.”  “She tried to talk to me but I was afraid.”  “Joe was a guardian angel and an evil tormentor.”  “She was crazy, lived in a hut, looked like a Disney version of Jesus’ mother Mary, but her name was Alice.”
  23. 23.  Average age when they first experienced it: 6 years old (range = 3-16)  36% had only one companion  74% said the IC was a person  48% said the IC was male  28% only experienced the IC as a presence  50% encountered the IC once a week  74% no longer experienced the IC, and stopped at an average age of 11 (range = 4-41)  26% never stopped experiencing the IC
  24. 24.  78% felt the IC experience was positive  26% said another family member had his or her own IC experiences  27% said another family member could see the respondent’s IC too
  25. 25.  41% married  93% white  52% male  38% First Born  84% Right-handed  85% never experienced a head injury  44% rarely suffered headaches  38% described themselves as not at all religious
  26. 26.  “I would mainly see it here or there around the house. It rarely spoke to me unless I spoke to it.”  “I saw the Angel at the foot of my bed many times watching over me in his mind. He was not visible and yet he was.”  “It didn’t really take much interest in me. It was just kind of there and I could see it and others couldn’t.”  “I had interaction with many different beings. One or two were friendly but one terrified me so badly I had night terrors from ages 2 to 5. During and after this I worked very hard on blocking out all the outside energies.”  “He lived in my grandmother’s house where I lived … and he liked to follow me even sometimes outside the house.”
  27. 27.  Average age when they first experienced it: 5 years old (range = 1-18)  55% had only one companion  83% said the IC was a person  56% said the IC was male  36% only experienced the IC as a presence  39% encountered the IC several times a week  77% no longer experienced the IC, and stopped at an average age of 10 (range = 2-43)  23% never stopped experiencing the IC
  28. 28.  74% felt the IC experience was positive  25% said another family member had his or her own IC experiences  11% said another family member could see the respondent’s IC too
  29. 29. Random Postal Survey Respondents Analysis N IC Yes Mean IC No Mean MW z p TAS Score by IC Yes - IC No Possible Score Range = 0-34 258 21.83 15.96 4.2 4 <.0001 TAS Frequency Rating Means by IC Yes - IC No Possible Score Range = 0-170 258 52.33 33.68 4.0 3 <.0001 Web-based Survey Respondents Analysis N IC Yes Mean IC No Mean MW z p TAS Score by IC Yes - IC No Possible Score Range = 0-34 579 25.89 21.19 6.6 4 <.0001 TAS Frequency Rating Means by IC Yes - IC No Possible Score Range – 0-170 579 93.54 70.35 6.9 9 <.0001
  30. 30.  The higher the TAS Score, the higher the frequency of TAS experiences, the higher the frequency of: ◦ Dream Recall, Disturbing Dreams, Lucid Dreams ◦ Waking ESP, Dream ESP, Apparition Experiences, OBEs, Aura Vision ◦ Mystical Experiences ◦ Déjà vu Experiences ◦ Color-Numbers/Letters Synesthesia-Like Experiences ◦ Color-Sounds/Music Synesthesia-Like Experiences
  31. 31. Postal Web IC Yes IC No IC Yes IC No Experiences % % % % Dream Recall 97.2 95.5 99.3 98.5 Disturbing Dreams 100 97.3 97.3 98.3 Lucid Dreams 91.4 74.2 92.5 86.3 ESP Dreams 85.3 64.5 85.6 74.1 Waking ESP 75 54.1 87.9 69.2 Auras 30.6 12.2 60.1 32.7 Apparitions 69.4 35.6 89.3 71.6 OBEs 50 34.7 78.9 58.7 Mystical Experience 72.2 50.2 89.9 79.9 Déjà Vu 94.3 83.8 95.9 94.6 Synesthesia-Colors with Sounds/Music 47.2 23.9 64.4 34.9 Synesthesia-Colors with Numbers/Letters 36.1 12.2 43.5 22
  32. 32. Mean t p All Participants TAS Score Means Random Postal Respondents 16.66 Web-based Respondents 22.08 9.232<.00001 IC Experients Only Random Postal Respondents 21.833 Web-based Respondents 25.888 3.333 0.001 Non-IC Experients Only Random Postal Respondents 15.964 Web-based Respondents 21.176 8.173<.00001 All Participants TAS Frequency Means Random Postal Respondents 35.890 Web-based Respondents 74.890 17.010<.00001 IC Experients Only Random Postal Respondents 52.333 Web-based Respondents 92.545 7.247<.00001 Non-IC Experients Only Random Postal Respondents 33.676 Web-based Respondents 70.279 15.317<.00001
  33. 33.  Postal: 263 respondents ◦ 36 IC Experiencers (14%)  Web: 622 Respondents ◦ 156 IC Experiences (27%)
  34. 34. Postal Web Variable Yes % Yes % Dream Recall 99% 99% Disturbing Dreams 98% 98% Lucid Dreams 77% 89% ESP Dreams 68% 77% Waking ESP 57% 74% Auras 16% 40% Apparitions 41% 76% OBEs 37% 64% Mystical Experience 53% 82% Déjà Vu 85% 95% Synesthesia-Colors with Sounds 27% 43% Synesthesia-Colors with Numbers 16% 28%
  35. 35. Variables Positive Correlations Random Postal Sample SWLS scores with Aura Vision Frequency SWLS with Synesthesia-like Experiences of Colors with Letters/Numbers TAS Score with all dream-related, seemingly psychic, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences TAS Frequency Rating with all dream-related, seemingly psychic, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences
  36. 36. Variables Positive Correlations Web-based Sample SWLS scores with Aura Vision Frequency SWLS scores with Mystical Experience SWLS scores with Synesthesia-like Experiences of Colors with Letters/Numbers TAS score with Religiousness TAS Frequency Rating with Religiousness TAS score with Headache Frequency TAS Frequency Rating with Headache Frequency TAS Score with all dream-related, seemingly psychic, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences TAS Frequency Rating with all dream-related, seemingly psychic, mystical, déjà vu, and synesthesia-like experiences
  37. 37. Variables Mann-Whitneys Random Sample Significantly higher TAS scores by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents Significantly higher TAS frequency ratings by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents Significantly higher Apparitions frequency ratings by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents Web-based Sample Significantly higher TAS scores by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents Significantly higher TAS frequency ratings by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents Significantly higher experience ratings by IC “Yes” respondents vs IC “No” respondents on Dream Recall, ESP Dreams, Waking ESP, Aura vision, Apparitions, OBEs, Mystical, Déjà vu, Synesthesia-like experiences with colors with letters/numbers
  38. 38. Variables Comparison Significantly higher TAS scores for the Web-Based IC “No” Respondents than the Random Sample IC “No” Respondents Significantly higher TAS Frequency Ratings for all categories of respondents on the Web-based versus the Random Sample
  39. 39.  IC Experiences are related to dream, parapsychological and other exceptional experiences  Absorption is related to IC Experiences  Imaginary Companions are not only an experience of childhood  Further work needs to be done.

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