Two-Factor Imagination Scale (TFIS) Test

This week I took the Two-Factor Imagination Scale (TFIS) test. It was developed to identify the predominant imagination style used by alexithymic and non-alexithymic individuals. I have a couple of questions at the end of this write-up for those who take both TFIS and the Alexithymia Questionnaire.

Imagination–or the alleged lack of imagination in both autistic and alexithymic individuals–seems to be a hot topic around here lately.

Impoverished imagination is often included in the list of traits for alexithymia. Restricted imagination isn’t explicitly included as a diagnostic item for Asperger’s or autism, but it is part of the common ASD stereotype.

People see autistic kids lining up Hot Wheels or sorting Legos by color and assume there isn’t a whole lot going on in the imagination department. As someone who spent a lot of time in organizational-type play as a kid, I can assure you that I had a vivid imagination.

The thing is, it mostly took place inside my head. All that time I spent wandering around aimlessly in the yard or staring off into space? I was often playing with my imaginary friend Will, pretending to be somewhere else entirely. Will and I spent a lot of time on other planets because he was modeled on Will Robinson from “Lost in Space.”

I didn’t need toys to act out my imaginary scenarios. The possibilities that existed in my mind were more interesting than the pretend food my friends wanted to pretend cook or the pretend store they liked pretend shopping at. Sometimes I joined in, but often it just seemed like a less interesting version of real life. I get bored really easily. Picking some berries and pretending to cook and eat them didn’t hold my attention for long.

Spontaneous vs. Controlled Imagination

The Two-Factor Imagination Scale questions are supposed to gauge whether you have a more spontaneous or more controlled imagination process.

  • Spontaneous imagination is defined as effortless, surprising and instantaneous. For example, you’re washing the dishes and suddenly have a great new idea for a drawing. It feels like your idea literally “came out of nowhere.”
  • Controlled imagination is defined as a process that is consciously initiated, guided and terminated. For example, you’re washing the dishes and consciously decide to think about how to resolve a conflict with your roommate. You intentionally stay on task, brainstorming ideas and refining until you have an answer, at which time you stop thinking about it.

That’s not to say that spontaneous imagination is always creative while controlled imagination is always practical. You could suddenly have the perfect solution to your roommate crisis appear out of nowhere. You could also intentionally brainstorm and plan a new drawing.

The theory behind the TFIS is that people with high alexithymic traits are controlled imagination-dominant. The speculation about imagination in autistics is similar–that our imaginations are less flexible or less productive when it comes to generating novel ideas.

While the TFIS isn’t a measure of how imaginative an individual is, it may shed some light on how we use our imaginations. Keep in mind that neither type of imagination is superior–they simply represent different thinking styles.

Taking the Test

You can take the test at Aspie Tests. Once you click the “click here to start” link, you’re taken to a page that asks for age, gender, and diagnostic status. You also have to tick the box agreeing to the terms, but you don’t have to fill in the user name info.

TFIS consists of 22 statements, which you  rate as “more often true” or “less often true”.

I had a lot of trouble choosing an option for many of the statements because I regularly have both controlled and spontaneous imagination experiences. I found myself answering questions in ways that directly contradicted each other, which got frustrating.

Once you’re satisfied with your answers (or can’t stand to look at the questions any longer) click the “Get Results” button to get your score.

Scoring the Test

There are three possible outcomes:

  • equal to or less than 45 = low spontaneous imagination
  • 46 to 59 = proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination
  • equal to or greater than 60 = high spontaneous imagination

I scored 56.0 (proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination), which isn’t surprising given how contradictory my answers felt. I think I use both types of imagination in tandem. Spontaneous ideas provide the start of a creative project or enrich the details. Controlled imagination fills in the gaps.

The Aspie Test site provides some interesting data on the scoring page. If you look only at the averages, it looks like people with ASD or suspected ASD have low spontaneous imagination and NTs have proportionate spontaneous/controlled imagination.

Average scores broken down by gender and neurotype
Average scores broken down by gender and neurotype

However, if you look at the graph, the data distribution isn’t “normal” which means the average scores don’t represent the majority of the people in each group. Look at where the yellow line peaks: the largest grouping of NT scores is at 40 (low spontaneous imagination) and the second largest is at 60 (high spontaneous imagination) making the average score of “proportionate” completely meaningless because the majority of NTs scored either low or high, not proportionate.

Distribution of scores by neurotype
Distribution of scores by neurotype

The same holds for the ASD scores. There’s a peak at 45 (proportionate) and a larger peak at 25 (low). The suspected ASD scores are literally all over the map, with no clear peak.

The Bottom Line

I’m struggling to draw any conclusions from this test, so I have questions for those who took it and would like to share:

  • How hard was it to choose answers that felt accurate?
  • Was your score surprising or what you expected?
  • Did you TFIS score “agree” with your alexithymia quiz score? (high alexithymic = low spontaneous imagination)

65 thoughts on “Two-Factor Imagination Scale (TFIS) Test”

  1. I scored a 40 – low spontaneous imagination. I believe my alexithymia score was 138, showing semi-high alexithymia traits as well. I’m surprised, sort of, by the low spontaneous imagination. I do feel like I have very controlled imagination (like I’ll plot and imagine an entire film in my head) but I don’t allow myself to do that all the time – I have very specific times of day when I feel I have enough time to indulge in that sort of imagination. But…I also feel like I have a lot of unwanted spontaneous imagination that is due to anxiety and brain hyperactivity. In short, this was a really confusing test. I can’t put my finger on what would make it more accurate, or even just easier to answer since that was pretty agonizing too!

    1. This test was frustrating and I kind of wanted to punch it by the time I was done. 🙂 I think a lot of my spontaneous imagination is like yours–lots of things popping into my head unbidden, but maybe not things that are necessarily creative. More like a constant stream of “oooh shiny!”

  2. 33.0 – Low spontaneous imagination. Sounds about right, and I had high alexithymia in the last test too 🙂 I see what you mean about struggling to choose accurate answers, though. I think it depends on the circumstances.

    1. The answers all felt very arbitrary to me, like if I took the test on another day, I’d have a wildly different score. But there does seem to be some correlation between the two test results so perhaps it’s not that off.

  3. I got a 54 (High spontaneous) and 130 Alexithymia. It took a lot of thought to come up with the answers, but I’m finally confident in mine. I can’t really just decide to start imagining something, or at least its not as effective, my imagination just kind of decides to kick in, and it usually kicks in pretty heavily. But once it starts, I can sort of throw stuff in there, slow down a little bit if needed, or generally guide it. I can’t really control when it starts, and I don’t have a huge say in the details or themes. For instance, I play guitar, and I just flow with ideas for songs at certain times, like in the shower or just random times. But whenever I sit down and try to come up with lyrics or chords, my imagination just doesn’t activate at all

    1. I’ve been hoping to get some comments from artists to see how the creative process and imagination go together. It sounds like your high spontaneous score really matches your imagination process.

  4. I love Take a Test Tuesday 🙂
    I think this one’s a weird test because it assumes that the imagination is just one blanket thing but for me it really isn’t. There is daydreaming, or thinking about something, a problem or whatever and that comes with pictures. So I guess that is imagination? Then there is self-directed imagination, which is deliberately running a highly intense, sensory, colourful ‘film’ in my head for the purpose of entertainment or escape. In this I control all scenarios, characters and outcomes. Then there is spirit-journeying, which is accessed through deep meditation, which begins with a deliberate self-controlled image or scenario (again, highly coloured and full of sensory detail) but which segues into an unexpected, surprising inner adventure and which finishes when it is done, not when I determine. Finally, I’m an artist, so I guess I employ imagination to make some of my work, although really it is just thinking. All my thinking is vividly pictorial though, I cannot think in abstract concepts very well.
    So, anyway I scored 38. Not sure it means anything though!

    1. I love Tuesday, too! It’s turned out to be a really fun day of the week. Your imagination sounds incredibly visual and varied. I think I’m enjoying hearing everyone’s descriptions of their imagination process more than the test results themselves. Maybe you’re a great example of how a more controlled imagination can also be rich and diverse rather than the stereotypical “impoverished” designation.

  5. It’s been years since I took that test, so I don’t remember my specific score (but may go re-take the test at some point today or tomorrow.) I remember that I DID score quite low on spontaneous imagination, however.

    What was more revealing to me than the score, however, was that I didn’t realize spontaneous imagination EXISTED until I saw that test. I thought everyone had an imagination like mine — one in which I “construct” things. When I first read the description of spontaneous imagination, it sounded frightening to me, like being overtaken constantly by hallucinations!

    (Other info about me, I am diagnosed Asperger’s but fit more into the pre-DSM 5 “autism” category than “asperger’s.” I am quite alexithymic and sense emotional states in others as muhc as I am able through smells, with a synaesthesia link that converts emotion to odor. I have been told that my interpretations of the smells I read from people are often “uncanny” but I am quite blind to my own emotions and often have to ask someone else to tell me what they think I am feeling, to try to get a handle on it.)

    1. Oh, that’s interesting about not realizing that spontaneous imagination existed. After doing some background reading for this write up, I had a long conversation with my husband (my NT guinea pig) about exactly what would be considered spontaneous vs. controlled because I tend to shift back and forth so much and couldn’t quite untangle them in my head.

      Your ability to sense emotions through smell is amazing. I wonder if it has something to do with our body’s way of releasing pheromones and stress chemicals, etc?

  6. • How hard was it to choose answers that felt accurate?

    Hard. Imagination is such an unclear thing to have to answer questions about.

    • Was your score surprising or what you expected?

    It wasn’t surprising, but I’m not sure what I was expecting anyway.

    • Did you TFIS score “agree” with your alexithymia quiz score? (high alexithymic = low spontaneous imagination)

    Yes. I got 44 in this (low spontaneous imagination) and 117 on the alexthymia test (high alexithymic traits). Neither of my scores were particularly extreme though.

    1. Your scores both look like they’re just over the cutoffs for the scoring ranges which is interesting. I’m starting to feel like the outlier here, with high alexithymic score and proportionate imagination.

  7. Hm. I got 44.0 – low spontaneous imagination, but pretty much right on the cusp. Very hard to choose answers that felt appropriate; I sometimes (but not always) start with spontaneous imagination and go on to controlled, and then back to spontaneous (for the end). My alexithymia score was 127 – high alexithymic traits – but at the same time the Restricted Imaginative Processes section of the test was 17 – no alexithymic traits (but again, right on the cusp of the mid-point). Not entirely sure what I was expecting, but it was interesting.

    Note that I’m a fiction writer (as I think I indicated to you, Musings! ;)), both fanfic and original fic, in the SF/Fantasy categories. And I cannot, for the life of me, write an English essay. (Which may be the executive dysfunction aspect….)

    😉 tagAught

    1. Maybe you aren’t good with English essays because they aren’t as interesting as writing fic. 🙂 I can bang out a decent essay in a connect the dots sort of way, but it’s not nearly as interesting to me as fiction. You’re probably right on about executive dysfunction getting in the way of essay writing though–all that planning and organizing and actually getting started . . .

  8. I scored a 60 (high spontaneous) on that test and a 91.0 (few to no alexithymia traits). I wished there was a middle “both” option as I can aim my imagination and let it go or it goes on its own. It goes a little too often for my liking at times. I lose track of where I am or what I am doing on a regular basis.

    1. I know what you mean about losing track of where you are because of a wandering imagination. I got my first tattoo last weekend and actually forgot I was getting tattooed at one point. It was startling when the artist stopped and asked me a question because I was off in my head somewhere! 😀

  9. I took this test a month ago and scored 22, just now scored 24 (both “off the chart”, not that that means anything except there’s an arbitrary cut-off), so that’s reasonably consistent given I’ve got a little uncertainty about the “right” answer for me for some of the questions. The ones about consciously controlling imagination were straightforward; others less so. Alexithymia score was 160 – high, so that’s a good correlation with the low spontaneous imagination.

    I believe that some of the control I have over building mental models is a consequence of my strongly visual-oriented mind: for example in my work as a software developer I “see” the code I’m working on as a system of moving, interacting parts. With each new piece of work I build the model of how it will function in my mind before I start typing: this might sound difficult to some people but I’ve always found it intuitive. In contrast, I can’t act spontaneously because I lack the imagination to come up with novel activities so I rely instead on routine and repetition of the same things. Naturally I find comfort in the predictability of routine.

    1. I think the chart is arbitrarily cut off at 25, which is too bad, because there is obviously a lot of data missing and it would be good to see what happens to that ASD line. The way you code is a lot like the way I write. I don’t sit down and start until I have a good portion of something mapped out in my head. It sounds like your imagination style really works for you on a lot of levels.

  10. I scored 61.

    Some of the questions were a bit unclear; 16 for instance:
    I use my imagination mainly for practical means, eg., like how to work out a problem or construct a useful idea or object.

    Sometimes I deliberately play out a scene repeatedly in my head before I write it, whereas other times I freewheel through it when things are really flowing. ‘Work out a practical problem’ for me, means ‘getting the next chapter written’, which I suspect is not the sort of problem they mean.

    I’m really confused by the ASD = no imagination construct. I know lots of NTs who (from my perspective) have zero imaginative life. The whole concept of creating a story in their heads is alien to them. And yet this is held up as an almost exclusively ASD phenomenon. It was the main reason I never even considered autism as an explanation for my difficulties until recently.

    Maybe it’s because of the conflation of ASD with numbers-orientated scientist types? But then how do people come up with paradigm changing theories in maths or physics if they don’t have imagination?

    Most of the time I spend more time in my imagined worlds than the real one. I’m in a bit of a hole at the moment; when I go through a bad time my imagination shuts down and not having that escape is close to unbearable. I have no wish whatsoever to spend my life living in the real world!

    However I do sometimes wonder if maybe I have read so much (I can read an average paperback in 3-4 hours) that I can describe the inner emotional life of a character because I have so many remembered templates to choose from. I can’t label my own emotions but I can predict what would be expected in different situations and label it so. Kind of like a blind person being given lots of descriptions of rainbows – in the end they would probably be able to competently describe one themselves despite having no visual cues.

    Also, when you write, you learn that you don’t say ‘he was angry’, you say ‘he slammed his coffee mug down’ or ‘he roared off in the car, tyres skidding’. Writing is a show, not tell function, and as long as you know what people do when they’re happy, sad, annoyed etc, you can write them quite competently.

    1. Yes, sometimes figuring out character motivation or what comes next in the plot is a practical problem, but probably not at all what they meant. I like that you pointed out about showing actions to represent emotions in fiction. I wonder if we’re actually better at this than NTs because we spend so much time watching people for clues to their emotions and behavior?

      I have a feeling the stereotypical imagination-deficient autistic comes in part from researchers observing kids playing in a way that emphasizes organization or concrete rather than “fantasy” play as well as the science paradigm you mention. But once you get past basic math, creativity is necessary in mathematics and a lot of research scientists are fantastically creative. If they weren’t, science would be stuck in the middle ages.

    2. Oh, yes, I know *exactly* what you mean about question 16 and the whole “work on a scene” bit, because I do the same thing. Sometimes I freewheel, sometimes I’ve planned out where I’m going. *And* the whole spending more time in my imaginary worlds than the real one – people around me have always found that an issue, that I’m happier spending time in my imaginary worlds. It’s the only way I can get to sleep at night, in fact!

      And yes, your last two paragraphs resonate with me as well. I started reading (seriously reading, as in more than a book a day at a minimum) when I was about 7, and have never really stopped. And for the most part, they’ve been fiction. In fact, I swear that writing fanfic – i.e. using established characters and settings – was what taught me how to write fully 3-dimensional characters, as opposed to the cardboard ones I wrote as a kid and young teen.

      Do you have a blog? Would love to read it if you do!

      😉 tagAught

  11. I have not taken the test. I have so much imagination it is hard for me to NOT imagine things AND bring them to fruition and sometimes even completion. Like Autism Acceptance Day, International Autism Acceptance Year, some of my blog posts, music I have improvised, artwork I have done. Some of the most imaginative people I know are Autistic and some of the least are not. I might take the tests when I have some time but currently working on a new project, which will be announced in about two weeks. 😉 P.S. I have emotions and empathy, too…

  12. The questions are too much radical, you can’t really take a fifty/fifty answer even through I wanted to do so. I almost never use my imagination towards practicals things, but mostly because I’m lazy about solving problems, not because I can’t do it.
    I scored 62, which doesn’t really surprise me. I’m always daydreaming, in my head or on paper, and all my schools work (exam, notes or homework, everything) are covered by drawing. But It would had been better to have a middle answer…

    Plus, isn’t imagination a thing you can’t see by definition? So why are people using a so-called lack of imagination as a trait of autism? They’re not in our head, just like we’re not in theirs, so how come they can say some people lack imagination? No offense, just wondering!

    1. I have no idea how the “autistic people have no imagination” came to be. It certainly doesn’t seem to hold up when you talk to actually autistic people, so I guess it was something some scientist assumed and it stuck as a stereotype. The questions are very frustrating to try to pin down. I would have liked a numeric scale or something more nuanced.

  13. 56 points, which confirms my self-image: that I have a very strong, active and autonomous imagination. Many of my fantasies are practical ideas and solutions triggered by my own or others’ problems, but I also have many abstract fantasies (e.g. imagining colours, surfaces, spatial sensations, sounds, rhythms, et.c) plus ‘traditional’ daydreams that are like little scenes or parts of scenes. And other types.

    1. How hard was it to choose answers that felt accurate?

    Answer: impossible. There were many of the ambiguous questions, where I wasn’t sure of the meaning, and questions where both options were pretty much equally true.

    2. Was your score surprising or what you expected?

    Answer: What I expected – I expected a high score for spontaneous imagination.

    Did you TFIS score “agree” with your alexithymia quiz score? (high alexithymic = low spontaneous imagination)

    Answer: Yes. I had ‘no alexithymic traits’ for ‘Restricted Imaginative Processes’.

      1. It’s so cool that your imagination is in part so abstract and visual. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that. It’s fun to get a peek inside others’ heads.

        Really? I think that’s the bulk of sort of background fantasies that float around in my head. Maybe I didn’t describe it well enough: I may for example imagine the look and sensation of a piece of fur, a colour theme (with several components), or imaginary echolocation (like bats) that gives me a (fake, but that’s OK;-) sense of knowing the distances to surfaces around me when I walk down a street. Which is very calming and gives a (fake) sense of integration with the surroundings.

        Yes it is incredible fun to ‘get a peek inside others’ minds!’ I would love to get an idea about how others think! Not what they think (well, actually… that too), but the fabric, structure and movements of their thoughts! I wish I could experience little ‘trailers’ of that, I am sure it would change the way I think and improve my understanding of other people massively!

        1. Yes, really. My imagination is very text based (words or ideas that manifest via words). When I do think in pictures, they tend to be flat and utilitarian. Wow, it’s so hard to describe how we think!

      2. That is so fascinating! Is that what is called ‘Verbal Thinking’? Do you actually see words (as text), or do you hear them?

        Yes it is indeed incredible hard to describe how we think, because I think we tend to take the essential characteristics for granted, and therefore they remain subconscious and undefined!

        I also think some things as words/text. But usually even a verbal sentence is set in a sort of contextual space with visual associations / relations / comparisons / fantasies etc moving nearby. I don’t really understand how one can think in ‘words only’ (if that is really what you mean). What kind of background do the words appear on – is it just black or ’empty’ around them?

        1. I think it must be verbal thinking, yes. Most of the time I hear the words, but when I study for tests or need to memorize something, I can actually visualize the words that I studied on the page and “read” them off to recall what I need to for the test. Needless to say, I’m a good test taker when the test involves memorization of subject matter. 🙂

          The funny part is that when I think visually, I often struggle to come up with the right words to describe the visuals. It’s as if I have to translate from visual to verbal and in doing so, my normally strong verbal skills break down. My cognitive tests bore this out in a very strong way, so at least I’m not must imagining it.

      3. Oh, yes, hugely fun!

        I tend to think mostly in words. (At least, at a conscious level.) Sometimes those words are actually visualized as text, sometimes they’re… not. I think. (I know that I definitely visualize them as text sometimes – usually against an ’empty’ background, but I’m not sure if the rest of the time I’m visualizing them as a scroll-through that just goes fast enough I don’t realize it, or if they’re more abstract.)

        I also sometimes think / imagine in visual scenes, but those tend to not really have a huge amount of detail. At least, not that I can recall. It’s more like a flash in which I get the gist of the scene, who’s in it, what’s going on; but not, oh, say, what clothes the characters are wearing, or details of the background, or whatever. So visual, but somewhat abstracted, is how I’d describe it. Colours tend to come through as light or pale (even if I know they’re actually intense), and there are sometimes “general” emotions attached. (I say “general” meaning the basic – happy, sad, content, tender, angry, frustrated, worried – set of emotions, without really any of the intensity or blending / mixing that you tend to get in RL, that is what I often have trouble distinguishing.)

        Partly as a result of the above, one of the things I have to work on with my writing is my description. I can visualize everything going on, but because it’s got that “somewhat abstracted” element, I don’t always remember that other people need more details to build a picture. (That’s when one of my allistic betas comes in *really* handy! She has a habit of pointing out where I’m missing descriptions.)

        *shrugs* Hm. I think that sometime this week I might do a post on my own blog about imagination and visualization. This is a really interesting topic, and I’d love to discuss more about it! 😀

        😉 tagAught

      4. Thank you for your fascninating input! It is really incredible difficult to describe (or even be aware of) thoughts, but you do it very well!

        I’m a mixed thinker too. I think visual is my predominant ‘thinking sense’ (and spatial), but the ‘abstracted visual thinking’ you describe here is very similar to how I think… Actually I think is an excellent description:

        I also sometimes think / imagine in visual scenes, but those tend to not really have a huge amount of detail. At least, not that I can recall. It’s more like a flash in which I get the gist of the scene, who’s in it, what’s going on; but not, oh, say, what clothes the characters are wearing, or details of the background, or whatever. So visual, but somewhat abstracted, is how I’d describe it.

        (in my case, colours and some details are strong – but whole pictures are never detailed. That would probably require too much ‘brain RAM’;-)

        and I can see what you mean about this not giving the details you need for descriptions as a writer…

        Mixed thinking actually appears to be one of the most typical thinking styles, anyway. The following is from Wikipedia:

        Visual thinking is common in approximately 60%–65% of the general population.[1]

        […]

        “Real picture thinkers”, those persons who use visual thinking almost to the exclusion of other kinds of thinking, make up a smaller percentage of the population. Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be ‘true’ “picture thinkers”.[2]

        (Wikipedia references: 1. Deza 2009. 2. Silverman, Linda Kreger (2005), Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner, Maria J. Krabbe Foundation for Visual Thinking)

        So if I understood Cynthia right, then she would be one of the 25% that think exclusively in words (almost).

        Yes the topic is fascinating. I look forward to read your post. I think will write an imagination-related post myself … if it doesn’t end up as just another idle draft.

        Ps. I wish it was possible to take screen shots of my own and others’ thoughts, that would make for great illustrations;-)

        Pps. With the Wikipedia entry, it is strange that other senses are not mentioned as potential thinking styles – e.g. auditory. Don’t anyone think in music?

      5. I recently read ‘Animals in Translation’ by Temple Grandin. Her perspectives on animal thinking are great, but I have always felt puzzled why she thinks Verbal Thinking is the predominant ‘Normal’ thinking style, with visual thinking being particularly autistic. She seems to assume so for unknown reasons, and I could find no references in her writing to which research her assumption builds on (but that’s the only one of her books I have read). I couldn’t find that information in general online searches on ‘Verbal thinking’ etc either.

        I would think that at least partial visual thinking is the broad norm for humans, since most languages have so many visual references compared to other sensory-based references.

        Now I have just found an article by Donna Williams about just that – how visual thinking is the norm, and how alien persons feel who can’t do neither verbal nor visual thinking: Not Thinking in Pictures.

        Some folks, even when shown pictures with words associated with them, can memorise these but not relate the 2D image to an experiencable movable, smellable, tap-able, mouthable object in their 3D world. In other words, if you’re kinesthetic and meaning blind, if it don’t move then it don’t mean nothing.

        What she writes about fragment-focus and need for ‘gesture signing’ – movement/tactile sensation/physical experience being a condition for being able to relate to concepts (in her case: acknowledge their existence at all) makes a lot of sense.

        I think I’ve got a mixed thinking style, predominantly visual but kinestetics is part of it too (I am also a very tactile/physical person in general). In order to understand a mathematical/statistical model for example, I need to visualise ‘how it behaves’. That’s visual, but not detailed, and the sense of movement (kinesthetics) shows me how it works. Until that happens (can take months and may never happen – I am a very slow learner of mathematical abstract concepts) I don’t feel that I understand the model. Moving = relative movement in my mind-space = spatial. So that’s at least 3 thinking styles, and there might be words or numbers in there too. Is ‘Animated Collage’ an official thinking style? 😉

        What Donna Williams describes is an extreme/exclusive kinesthetic thinking style related to non-verbal autism and severe learning disorders. It is a great insight into non-verbal, non-holistic ways of sensing and processing the world; a peek into the minds of those ‘very autistic’ kids that seem unable to grasp the intended functionality/wholeness of objects (“I saw no doll’s house”) and use them only for touch, chewing, tapping on etc.

        Probably ‘we all’ have experience some hints and aspects of different thinking styles. There are smaller aspects in the other ‘minority’ thinking styles I can relate to, too, but the great benefit of a mixed thinking style is to be able to combine thinking styles to interpret and process a problem.

        today we know that among the rarer minorities in social there are those who are predominantly kinesthetic thinkers (think in movement, spatially, and are physical, hands on learners who have to DO to think), aural/musical thinkers (who learn through rote, rhythms and aural patterns), logical/mathematical thinkers (who learn via systems, categories and links) as well as a handful of other types.

        (the quotes are from the article)

        1. This is really interesting. Thank you for including the quotes and background info. The idea of needing to see an object in 3D to understand it is an interesting one. I’m not good at visualizing something I haven’t see before and I’ve sort of experienced what she’s talking about. For example, my husband visited our new apartment and sent me photos but when I actually arrived at the apartment it was very different from what I’d imagined based on the photos. Something about visualizing 3D space from 2D renderings is very challenging for me.

          Also, I was frustrated when I first heard Temple Grandin talk about how she thinks in pictures because I generally don’t and she presents that sort of thinking as uniquely autistic.

      6. Yes, she tends to generalise her own experiences and anecdotal ‘evidence’ to broader concepts, which is an unscientific things for a scientist to do. However, some of her perspectives and visions are so brilliant/interesting that I forgave it when I read her book. But I think her visual VS verbal thinking theory is one of her personal biases, where she converts her own personal experience into a trend.

      7. The idea of needing to see an object in 3D to understand it is an interesting one. I’m not good at visualizing something I haven’t see before and I’ve sort of experienced what she’s talking about. For example, my husband visited our new apartment and sent me photos but when I actually arrived at the apartment it was very different from what I’d imagined based on the photos. Something about visualizing 3D space from 2D renderings is very challenging for me.

        I think she means that she can not ‘see’ (imagine visually) at all without interacting with it in a tactile, kinaesthetic way. She needs movement and tactile interaction with an object to be able to ‘get’ it. (I was going to say ‘see’ or ‘visualise’, but that’s how she says that she can’t think – See how biased common English is towards visual thinking! it is almost impossible to avoid the assumptions that thoughts are visual in some way)

        I have kept thinking about imagination and thought types. It is really fascinating to realise that people experiences and processes the world in so fundamentally different ways. I tried to pay attention to and categorise my own thoughts the last few days and I realised that the inner flow of visual imagination never stops, but is mostly so abstract that I actually have no idea if the visuals ‘mean anything’ practically, or are just patterns of colours, shapes, movement, motives et.c. to enjoy for the sake of itself, for sensory pleasure… In any case, I like them;-) I have thought about the fact that senses are very integrated with each other and in thoughts and imagination. In my case, pleasant firm touch such as foot massage can release incredible pleasurable images in intense colour combinations, patterns, shapes, motives, intensely detailed and attractive. I think that is why I am ‘addicted to foot massage’. And why I like/need to touch things; I’m stimulating my visual imagination;-) Foot massage can also sometimes create intensely pleasurable, ‘mild electric currents’ in the head, and listening to music can have a similar effect. I pondered whether I’m so relatively solitaire because I can derive plenty of pleasures from my own senses and imagination and immediate, familiar surroundings, while in comparison typical socialising is more of an obstacle to having a good time, and in addition can be incredible frustrating. So mostly ‘it doesn’t really pay off.

        I have long wanted to write a post about using visualisation/imagination strategies that compensate for deficiencies and help cope in problem situations (e.g. situations that cause sensory overload, non-verbal communication and confusion, getting lost in a crowd). I have about half a draft already actually, but this type of things is very difficult to describe in words and I wonder if it is even possibly to communicate that way.

        1. I pondered whether I’m so relatively solitaire because I can derive plenty of pleasures from my own senses and imagination and immediate, familiar surroundings, while in comparison typical socialising is more of an obstacle to having a good time, and in addition can be incredible frustrating. So mostly ‘it doesn’t really pay off.

          I was talking my husband about this just the other day – how the payoff for socializing is often not worth the effort, not even close. There would be something rewarding about an activity to encourage/motivate us to partake in it. The reward for socializing is often so small compared to the reward for doing some other preferred activity (like writing or reading–words!–in my case).

          I think a post that describes your visual way of thinking, which seems quite different from say Temple Grandin’s description of having a sort of visual Google in her head, would be fascinating for readers. Even if you can’t fully describe it, it’s so different from anything that I experience that I’ve really enjoyed reading what you shared here about it.

      8. I think it must be verbal thinking, yes. Most of the time I hear the words, but when I study for tests or need to memorize something, I can actually visualize the words that I studied on the page and “read” them off to recall what I need to for the test. Needless to say, I’m a good test taker when the test involves memorization of subject matter. 🙂

        The funny part is that when I think visually, I often struggle to come up with the right words to describe the visuals. It’s as if I have to translate from visual to verbal and in doing so, my normally strong verbal skills break down. My cognitive tests bore this out in a very strong way, so at least I’m not must imagining it.

        Thank you for the insight! I am still not sure I understand the way you think. I get ‘hearing and visualising words’, but then I see it with you (based on the few photos you’ve posted) also in the picture, sitting in a test room with tables and pens and papers, windows and curtains et.c., and you’re having the words that you have memorised hanging in the air in front of you, looking at them to ‘re-read them’ right before the test starts. When you talk about taking tests, don’t you imagine (see visually) the test room or other place where you took a test? if not, how is all that contextual information contained within the words? A word or sentence can mean many different things depending on the context?

        1. Hmmm, I actually see the words in my head, not in the context of the room. In fact, when I take a test, the entire room and surroundings tend to fade away and I’ll forget where I am because I go so deep inside my head to focus on retrieving and conveying the information. If I accidentally slip and remember where I am, I need to refocus and shut everything out again or I can’t concentrate on the test. So I guess it’s like I build a mental cocoon maybe?

          When I prepare for a test, I usually make myself a set of condensed notes from my class notes. I make lists and illustrations and definitions and other things that I think will be important. Then if I get an essay topic on a subject I’ve prepared, I can mentally call up the list or definitions or whatever I need by “seeing” that notebook page in my mind. Like, I’ll literally visualize the handwritten page that I made. From my notes, I can reference other information I’ve learned on the subject–imagine a big web and each bullet point or illustration from my notes is a major hug in the web and it links by threads to other bits of information that I can trace this way and that, collecting up the details I need to fill in around the key points.

          I’m not sure that makes sense at all, but it’s how I store information. Often, if I can’t recall something, I’ll think about a related subject, something that feels “adjacent” to the thing I need to remember and from there I’ll be able to access the thing I need.

      9. It makes perfect sense. Also, I think your method is very common, including visualising notes (for those who can do it). Not being able to go into a mental cocoon to concentrate on a test would probably be an attention dysfunction.

        I don’t think I explained what I meant well or thought clearly about it, because obviously focusing on the room when doing tests would just be an irrelevant distraction. I was thinking about it wrong, because of course my vision of you doing the test is totally different from your experience – from the inside, and you would obviously focus on the test and nothing else. How I thought about it is just sort of the visual label that summarises and categorises the situation. Sorry I have gotten myself confused with all theses thoughts about thoughts and forms of thinking & consciousness … Will return to this topic with more clarity later (hopefully), preferably in the form of a post!

      10. I was talking my husband about this just the other day – how the payoff for socializing is often not worth the effort, not even close. There would be something rewarding about an activity to encourage/motivate us to partake in it. The reward for socializing is often so small compared to the reward for doing some other preferred activity (like writing or reading–words!–in my case).

        Precisely! ‘Why do people put up with wasting so much time on casual socialisation without loosing patience and wanting to return to their passions’.

        I think a post that describes your visual way of thinking, which seems quite different from say Temple Grandin’s description of having a sort of visual Google in her head, would be fascinating for readers. Even if you can’t fully describe it, it’s so different from anything that I experience that I’ve really enjoyed reading what you shared here about it.

        Thank you very much! Same here. This conversation has been very mind-expanding.

        I do have a draft post about helpful ‘sensory imagination strategies’, mostly visualisations (that’s my home made name… tried googling a variety of possible terms and couldn’t find anything about it). It which was a spin-off from the posts about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy strategies for social anxiety (which I haven’t posted yet either. *Sigh*). I figured that it was too weird to fit into the serial about social anxiety, and maybe too weird at all, but I will do it. I think it could be interesting to read as you say. Maybe there are even some people who have similar or other strategies that could be interesting to hear. Even if it is really just strange nonsense to anyone but me, then that isn’t exactly a disaster.

        Thank you very much for your supportiveness, insights & curiosity. I get so much learning and development out of reading your blog and comments.

    1. I wonder if it is even possibly to communicate that way.

      I meant: I wonder if it is even possibly to communicate complex visualisations in words/writing.

  14. I found this test so frustrating that I put it aside for weeks!

    I just made myself take the thing and despite finding the questions difficult, because my answers felt ‘wrong’, I scored 32. The type of imagination it seems to be talking about is a kind of daydreaming that gets depicted in TV shows where a character seems to literally get lost in a vivid dream, possibly a lucid dream, during the day time. I don’t really do that, so I answered almost completely on the side of not having a spontaneous imagination.

    My imagination is extremely speculative, tends to start from an idea and consider the possibilities of what it implies and where it will lead. I’m good at solving computer programming problems, ‘seeing’ (actually more of a spacial experience) that something being suggested won’t work because of cascading effects within the system I have modelled in my head. I often have original ‘outside the box’ approaches to things once I’ve taken the time to ensure I understand them. I generally have to mentally model something in order to think about it, this includes the storylines/continuity of a TV show, which generally means I’ve extrapolated huge amounts of information without consciously thinking about it. However it all happens naturally as a result of the process of understanding, not as something that I have to make myself generate.

    My imagination is usually very derivative, as in literally derived from processing the world around me and the concepts I’m exposed to. If someone explains something to me and I’ve asked enough questions to understand it, I’ve probably derived a huge number of ideas as a result. Does this count as ‘imagination’ as the test defines it, it doesn’t feel like it does? Often the information comes to me without conscious processing, or after taking a nap or thinking about something else, so that’s spontaneous, but it isn’t a daydream or fantasy.

    My childhood play and story writing tended to be highly derivative of science fiction programmes I’d seen on TV and fantasy stories I’d read. Reading those stories back they’re a wild mishmash of too many ideas, but I can see where all the ideas came from, and I was aware of it when I wrote the stories. Even now my attempts to write fiction feel like they aren’t original ideas, I’ve seen and read far too much science fiction that every idea I have can be traced to some story or other or a variation on one or a combination of many, I also always tend to go back to writing about 12 year olds with psionic powers, which is a life long obsession since I was that age myself.

    In my early teen years when I escaped into elaborate fantasies about parallel universes, they were all a type of logical speculation derived from a single idea – if this thing had been different then what would have happened instead. I was quite able to immerse myself in this and return to ones I liked. Perhaps they weren’t awfully fantastical, mainly situations in which I was more normal or more liked, more able to fit in. It seems I’ve long been obsessed with working out why I was different and how to fix it.

    It’s interesting you say that your childhood imagination was based on a science fiction show, I was asked about this and how I played with other children during my assessment, did I play games with kids based on TV shows I liked and how well did that go, so I researched and somewhere read that it’s common for autistic kids pretend play to be prescriptively based on a TV show, film, comic book etc rather than an original idea, and if it’s shared with other kids this generally causes problems as the others will want to deviate from the established storyline and characters, which is upsetting and wrong. This might go to the extreme of the autistic kid insisting the other children follow a script. I think all kids play pretend based on what they’ve seen in popular culture, or else playing Disney Princesses or pretending to be The Avengers would be pathologised! But perhaps it becomes more freeform and original when typical kids play together starting from the characters and stories they’re familiar with from culture, while autistic kids may be more likely to stick to rigid scenarios?I do have some strong memories of being unhappy and frustrated with other kids not playing properly or not following the rules of the game we were playing. Is the rigidity a sign of limited imagination or the need for familiarity and structure?

    It was more typical for my childhood play at home with my brother to be playing at making a newspaper or a comic book or a radio station. This often resulted in us actually creating a full paper or taping radio shows with parody jingles, adverts and soap operas. This was undeniably creative, often quite funny, but all structured and derived from copying the format of something else but with added personality.

    I think as an adult I’m good at having bizarre conversations where my friends and I speculate ludicrous logical-sounding explanations of things by deriving the next ‘logical’ step from the first absurd germ of an idea, usually based on an intentional misunderstanding of a double meaning, or some other form of wordplay. This is really a kind of surrealist word game with play with each other. I think this is an extremely aspie form of humour, very imaginative and bizarre for onlookers to witness, but also does follow its own strange logic.

    Sorry for the now trademark epically long comment! I guess I’m saying that I don’t seem to daydream and fantasize in the ways the test is asking for, but I do think I have an active and vivid imagination of its own sort, that doesn’t really fit the binary the ‘two factor scale’ is trying to fit me into.

    1. I was wondering where you were! Sorry this one flummoxed you. I found it so frustrating that I subjected my husband to a long, tortured conversation about it as I was trying to write it up.

      It seems like the nature of imagination is hard to pin down and the test creators had a very specific dichotomy in mind when they wrote the test items. Someone else mentioned in the comments a similar approach to programming as yours, one in which the system needs to be visualized first and then set down in concrete terms. It’s interesting that programmers and others who work in technical areas are presumed to be more unimaginative than not. In practice that appears to be untrue for many.

      Your mention of playing radio station reminded me of the old reel-to-reel tape recorder I found in the basement and put to use recording plays (or “shows” as I thought of them) that I’d written. I would spend hours recording and playing them back to entertain myself. It seems like a huge portion of childhood play is derivative. I’m not sure how “experts” find a line between imaginative play and play that isn’t considered original or imaginative. How much of a play scenario has to be wholely made up to qualify? Feeding a doll or playing house or acting out stories using Little People doesn’t sound that original when you think about it because is derived from what the child observes in real life. I doubt many children spend their days constantly thinking up completely original and fantastical scenarios.

      Oh, and my imaginary friend did totally mundane things with me as well. I have a very distinct memory of us brushing our teeth together at the sink in the downstairs bathroom in my first childhood home. He was someone to play with but he was also someone who was always around, I guess. Until my sister was born, I had very little interaction with other children I think.

  15. I scored 24 low spontaneous imagination and 152 high alexithymic traits. I do struggle with my imagination. Most of the time I feel like I don’t have one!

    1. Your scores are right in line with the theory of the relationship between alexithymic traits and less spontaneous imagination. It seems like our imaginations and even our perceptions of them are highly varied.

  16. the tests seemed unusual to me. I rarely let anyone into my head but i think i might this time. I rarely think in ‘words’ or even ‘images’. the thoughts either are or they aren’t. My test scores are what i expected though a little more extreme then predicted. Your result is broken down into various factors to give you some insight into your result.

    Category: Difficulty Identifying Feelings: 18 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Difficulty Describing Feelings: 12 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Vicarious Interpretation of Feelings: 9 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Externally-Oriented Thinking: 21 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Restricted Imaginative Processes: 21 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Problematic Interpersonal Relationships: 18 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    Category: Sexual Difficulties and Disinterest: 12 Points
    In this category you show some alexithymic traits.

    http://www.aspietests.org/tfis/questions.php?show=e9de84a34061&locale=en_GB

    1. Thank you for sharing your results. The sort of “immediate” fully forming thinking you describe is really interesting. Until people started sharing here, I never realized there were so many ways to process information and experience the world.

  17. Okay, I don’t know that I’m an aspire, but I took it anyway. I’ve been told I am bumpy some nonprofessionals. Anyway, I think I’m definitely a spontaneous imagined, but I too scored a 56. I felt that some of the questions were worded too generally. In some instances I could score one way, in others I would score the opposite.

    1. This test seems poorly correlated to aspie-ness for many of us. And I agree with you about the questions being too general or hard to answer. I felt like a lot of my answers directly contradicted each other.

        1. Use a better test, this one isn’t even really meant to be used to screen for autism, it’s just something that supposedly correlates with the spectrum and it’s pretty tenuous at that. It’s really a test for one single autistic trait, you want something that covers a wide variety of different autistic traits.

          Start with the Rdos Aspie Quiz or the RAADS-R:
          http://rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php
          http://www.aspietests.org/

  18. “Test taken by you on 29 September 2013 22.0 – Low spontaneous imagination”
    To answer your questions:-
    How hard was it to choose answers that felt accurate? Very easy
    Was your score surprising or what you expected? Even lower than expected
    Did you TFIS score “agree” with your alexithymia quiz score? (high alexithymic = low spontaneous imagination) YES! 153 on their Alexythemic scale 😦 I’m not devoid of emotion and empathy. I care very much fro my family, friends etc.. I just find the details of how I feel impossible to decypher.

  19. For me, the questions were sometimes confusing, as I think they were worded to force me to answer in a way that might not be completely accurate. Especially the TFIS one.
    My score was incredibly low. I’ve always thought I had an active imagination, but now I realize I just use my imagination to escape social situations a lot. It’s almost all directed by me. Even my dreams have a clear purpose!
    My scores agreed. 137 on the alexthymia one and 24(!) on this one. I wasn’t surprised by the alexthymia one, though.

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