Imagination Can Alter Real-Life Attitudes on a Neural Level

May 19, 2019

“Above Us Only Sky” is a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of John Lennon’s classic 1971 album, Imagine, that is a new release on Netflix this month. An imagination-based study was published today by Daniel Schacter of Harvard University and co-authors Roland Benoit and Philipp Paulus of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences.

This paper corroborates that Lennon was spot on when he recommended using imagination to shift our worldview (e.g., “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.”)

“Merely imagining interacting with a much-liked person at a neutral place can transfer the emotional value of the person to this place. And we don’t even have to actually experience the episode in reality,” Schacter said in a statement.

The music video for the song “Imagine” opens with a Grimm’s fairy-tale-like landscape enshrouded by dense fog. Within a few seconds, the outline of two silhouettes walking down a path emerges. Soon it becomes clear that the viewer is observing a private moment between two iconic superstars from a voyeuristic vantage point, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono navigate the path ahead and make their way out of the forest.

The visuals and metaphors throughout this video evoke a wide range of emotions. On both a visceral and cerebral level, the opening scene of the “Imagine” video is eerie and kind of spooky—but also has a dreamy and romantic quality. The next location of the video is a serene white room that is darkened by wooden shutters that block almost all sunlight from entering the mostly-empty space.

As Lennon plays the piano and sings “Imagine,” Ono walks with Zen-like grace from window to window, slowly opening the blinds and allowing daylight to stream into the room.

As you can imagine, opening all the window blinds changes the whole vibe of the room. Now that I’ve described the video and you’ve conjured up these images in your imagination, please take few minutes to watch this fifty-year-old video that was shot on location at their home in Tittenhurst Park with a “This Is Not Here” sign above the front door.

The latest neuroscience-based research shows that our real-life attitudes can be reshaped by what our brain imagines. This paper, “Forming Attitudes via Neural Activity Supporting Affective Episodic Simulations,” was published May 17 in the journal Nature Communications.

The findings of this state-of-the-art research on the power of imagination suggest that real-life attitudes are influenced by what we imagine. From a neuroscience perspective, based on fMRI brain imaging performed during their investigation, the researchers speculate that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex plays a pivotal role in facilitating the power of imagination.

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