Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Imagination refers to a complex cognitive ability that helps to create mental images and representations without using senses. It is mostly associated with creative thinking and allows one to explore certain ideas that may or may not exist in reality.

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What Is Imagination?

Imagination refers to an act of producing new ideas, methods, or mental images and concepts that may or may not be present in the current environment. It is a unique ability of the human mind that allows us to think creatively and create mental imagery. Moreover, people can also imagine narratives of something that are not perceived through our senses. This mental ability helps us to reproduce various contents from our past experiences and rearrange them in a new way different from their original experience. It is an extremely significant part of human cognition and can be characterized by dreaming about unrealistic scenarios, visual representations, and fantasy stories. Creative individuals, especially artists or writers, are more likely to have greater imaginative ability than others.

Researchers 1 define imagination as ‘the cognitive process which enables the individual to manipulate intrinsically generated phenomenal information in order to create a representation perceived by the mind’s senses.’ It involves episodic memory retrieval, mental stimulation, visualization, future thinking, and spatial navigation, according to a 2016 research paper 2. Along with creative cognition, the ability to imagine is an important aspect of creative achievements as well.

Understanding Imagination

The complex human ability to imagine things varies from person to person. Research 3 shows that, among all age groups, children are more likely to be extremely imaginative due to their nature of development. Their imaginative qualities 4 benefit them in a variety of ways, such as helping them develop empathy, the ability to take others’ perspectives and predict the consequences of their actions. A 2015 study 5 suggested that memory is associated with imagination as the contents of past experiences are reproduced in memory in the same way it happened in the past. Meanwhile, imaginative ability includes memory and experience aspects that create a mental scenario different from the perceived reality.

Many studies have defined imagination as a creative mental function that is thought to be present in several mammal species, to a certain extent. It is a kind of healthy and creative artistic expression but within limits. Psychologists 6 believe that process is constructive as an imaginative mind constructs a new scenario out of the distinct contents of past experiences. It includes rearrangements of facts that are previously observed and recollected in a new pattern, due to this nature a 2017 research paper 7 even considered imagination as a mental manipulation. The process of imagination consists of trial-and-error 8 activity to satisfy a want or wish.

Imagination At A Glance

  • Imagination is a complex cognitive ability that helps to create mental images and representations without using senses.
  • It involves episodic memory retrieval, mental stimulation, visualization, future thinking, and spatial navigation.
  • Imaginative qualities help us develop empathy, the ability to take others’ perspectives and predict the consequences of their actions.
  • A region in the brain known as the bilateral hippocampus plays a vital role in controlling the development of imagination.
  • There are eight types of imagination that people use in daily lives, such as creative, passive, active, intellectual, dream, esthetic, strategic, and receptive.
  • Reading, practicing meditation, and socializing help individuals boost their ability to imagine things.

How Are Imaginations Formed?

Imagination highly depends on memory that mostly depends on perception. It is formed by using numerous parts of the human brain, including those areas responsible for senses, visions, emotions, and those that control our reasoning ability, speech, nerve impulses as well. This implies that the human brain uses all these functions to develop the ability to imagine. Research 9 says that a region in the brain known as the bilateral hippocampus plays a vital role in controlling the development of imagination. This process also requires a widespread neural network of the human brain. This network coordinates with various activities across the brain and is capable of manipulating images, symbols, theories, and ideas. Even real-life events and experiences help in this formation. Our brain often uses contents stored in memories to form imaginations.

Types Of Imagination


There are eight types of imagination that people use in their everyday life, such as:

1. Creative

A 2015 study 10 suggests that it refers to the construction of an imaginary situation. It makes a new image out of the pieces of content and arranges them in a new order. For example, an engineer creates the plan of a building with his creative imaginative ability.

Read More About Creativity Here

2. Intellectual

It can be either creative or receptive and mostly offers the purpose of one’s knowledge. People use this kind of imagination while developing hypotheses from a variety of information in the fields of politics, philosophy, and management.

3. Receptive

It refers to when the human brain creates a mental scenario the way it is described. For example, when people read stories, novels, history, poems, travel stories, we try to imagine the scenarios the way it is described in the content.

4. Active

Studies 11 showed that an individual uses this kind of imagination to recollect contents from past experiences and arrange them in a new pattern. The combination of contents is completely dependent on the effort of the will. Our mind selects some content and rejects others, and creates a new image or scenario.

5. Passive

The human mind is never completely passive at any time. In this type, the mind doesn’t make an effort to create a new image, rather the contents come of themselves in the mind and create a new pattern by suggestive force.

6. Dream

Dream 12 is also a type of imagination that is unconscious and consists of ideas, sensations, and emotions. People often imagine their past memories or some unrelated scenarios during certain stages of sleep.

Read More About Dreaming Here

7. Esthetic

It mostly satisfies people’s esthetic impulses and is interlinked with the gratification of emotions. It is not associated with our practical requirements rather significantly involved in the creation and appreciation of beauty.

8. Strategic

A 2000 research paper described it as the most practical form of imaginative power that offers the most practical purpose. It helps people identify and assess opportunities by creating mental scenarios of them. One of the primary criteria of this type is that it should satisfy the practical requirements of the external world.

How To Enhance Your Imagination

How To Enhance Your Imagination

The ability to be imaginative is extremely important for our professional and personal growth. It not only helps us to utilize our creative mind but also develops empathy and strengthens our interpersonal relationships with others.

The following are five beneficial ways that can help you to enhance your imaginative ability:

1. Read more

Many people consider that reading is only limited to books and some even find it extremely boring and irrelevant. But in reality, reading provides a distant view of other people’s experiences and insights. A 2016 study 13 says that it offers a broad range of possibilities which is essential to boost your imagination.

2. Locate your thoughts

Meditation and exercise help us to calm ourselves and quiet our mental chatter. During this state of mind, we can use our super-consciousness which is responsible for our creative thinking. Meditation helps us to locate our thoughts and arrange them in a new form. It not only helps us to develop our ability to imagine things but also releases our stress and anxiety.

3. Try daydreaming

Daydreaming tends to be more beneficial than merely dreaming. Whenever you take a break from your daily chores, try to By speculating on things, you can make it a habit that will enhance your ability to imagine things.

4. Make social connections

People around us have a significant impact on us. Communicating with new people can help us think from their perspective. Socializing can provide you with different insights and open your creative mind.

5. Research and ask questions

Being curious about things and listening to others without thinking about your own reply can help you to develop a strong imaginative ability. Whenever feeling curious about a thing, try conducting research on them and satisfy inquisitive nature. Write down whenever an idea comes to your mind.

Strengthen Your Imagination

Imagination plays a major role in our mental well-being. It provides pleasure to a person and also helps in the healing process. It develops empathy as we try to imagine ourselves in the place of others and think from a different perspective. It boosts our creative mind which is very important for our professional growth.

👇 References:
  1. Drubach D, Benarroch EE, Mateen FJ. Imaginacion: definicion, utilidad y neurobiologia [Imagination: its definition, purposes and neurobiology]. Rev Neurol. 2007 Sep 16-30;45(6):353-8. Spanish. PMID: 17899517. []
  2. Jung, R. E., Flores, R. A., & Hunter, D. (2016). A New Measure of Imagination Ability: Anatomical Brain Imaging Correlates. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 496. []
  3. Lane, J. D., Ronfard, S., Francioli, S. P., & Harris, P. L. (2016). Children’s imagination and belief: Prone to flights of fancy or grounded in reality?. Cognition, 152, 127–140. []
  4. Gaesser B. (2013). Constructing memory, imagination, and empathy: a cognitive neuroscience perspective. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 576. []
  5. Abraham, A., & Bubic, A. (2015). Semantic memory as the root of imagination. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 325. []
  6. Abraham A. (2016). The imaginative mind. Human brain mapping, 37(11), 4197–4211. []
  7. Brogaard, B., & Gatzia, D. E. (2017). Unconscious Imagination and the Mental Imagery Debate. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 799. []
  8. Mullally, S. L., & Maguire, E. A. (2014). Memory, Imagination, and Predicting the Future: A Common Brain Mechanism?. The Neuroscientist : a review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry, 20(3), 220–234. []
  9. Beaty R. E. (2020). The Creative Brain. Cerebrum : the Dana forum on brain science, 2020, cer-02-20. []
  10. Jankowska, D. M., & Karwowski, M. (2015). Measuring creative imagery abilities. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1591. []
  11. Alcaro, A., & Carta, S. (2019). The “Instinct” of Imagination. A Neuro-Ethological Approach to the Evolution of the Reflective Mind and Its Application to Psychotherapy. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 522. []
  12. Nir, Y., & Tononi, G. (2010). Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology. Trends in cognitive sciences, 14(2), 88–100. []
  13. Jung, R. E., Flores, R. A., & Hunter, D. (2016). A New Measure of Imagination Ability: Anatomical Brain Imaging Correlates. Frontiers in psychology, 7, 496. []
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